Lance Armstrong said he is still a seven-time Tour de France winner despite being stripped of his titles for doping because the cyclists he had competed against also cheated, AFP reported.
"Yes, I feel that I won the races," said Armstrong. "I know that is not a popular answer, but the reality is, it was just a messy time. It was basically an arms race, and we all played ball that way."
In August 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles, which he won from 1999 to 2005. Because all 21 of the top-three finishers during Armstrong's win streak were tied to doping, there is no official winner for the years Lance won the Tour.
In January 2013, Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey in a riveting TV interview that he had doped during much of his career. Lance revealed that he had started taking performance-enhancing drugs in the mid-1990s and had used testosterone, EPO and blood transfusions.
George Hincapie: Many Other Teams Also Doped
Armstrong, 42, explained that all the top cyclists during his era had doped (which was true), and that he had to do it in order to level the playing field.
"There was a group of us primarily living in Italy and we just said we either have to play ball here or go home," he said. "Maybe I'd approach the decision differently today, but at the time I didn't lose sleep over it."
In a new book by his longtime friend and teammate George Hincapie, The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance, Hincapie said it's unfair to blame Armstrong for cycling's entrenched doping culture.
"Lance understands he did a lot of wrong things," George told the AP. "Is it right that he's being blamed for 100 years of doping? I don't think so."
Hincapie, who also doped, testified during the USADA investigation that led to Armstrong's downfall. George said Lance and his former teammates were unfairly targeted because many other pro cycling teams also systematically doped and employed even more sophisticated methods than their squads.
"They made it look like we were the only team," Hincapie said. "I mentioned many times to Travis [Tygart]. He knew there were other teams doing this stuff. There were a lot of other teams we felt had even more aggressive programs than we did, and that never came out."
Lance: My Rivals Would Concede That I Won 7 Tours
Armstrong has been slammed for repeatedly denying that he had doped, but it's unfair to single him out when all the cyclists he competed against had also doped, and in most instances, were caught.
[It would be a] mistake, and it would be disrespectful to the sport, to leave seven years empty. If I didn't win, then somebody needs to win. Of course I'm going to say I won. Ask the guys (my fellow Tour de France competitors), 'Did Lance win?' I think I know what they'd say."
Lance, who won his first triathlon at the age of 13, stunned the sports world in 2009 when he announced that he would come out of retirement to race for an unprecedented eighth Tour de France title. Armstrong's implausible comeback from cancer patient to Tour de France champion was one of the most inspiring stories in all of sports.
The Texas-born cycling legend, who was diagnosed with stage 4 testicular cancer in 1996, rebounded from the disease to win an unprecedented seven consecutive Tour de France titles. Ironically, had he not come out of retirement in 2009, his doping would have remained secret.
In the book Wheelmen, Wall Street Journal reporters Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell detailed the sophisticated doping culture Armstrong and his fellow cyclists were involved in. Lance had many co-conspirators, including team doctors and the president of USA Cycling, who helped hide his team's intricate doping activities.
Despite the widespread doping culture in pro cycling, no other cyclist has ever won seven consecutive Tour de France races.