AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - At a bike shop in a hilly area of Austin, local cyclists gathered on Thursday over beer, wine and pizza to watch disgraced cyclist and Austinite Lance Armstrong confess to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
Surrounded by bicycles, dozens of people and a few dogs crowded around a single flat-screen television near the cash register at Nelo’s Cycles. They wore cycling gear or jeans, brought their own chips and salsa and were joined by television crews from everywhere from Texas to Denmark.
“Every time you hear the word ‘sorry,’ you have to chug a beer,” a Nelo’s employee yelled moments before the interview began. Groans floated through the room as Armstrong answered “yes” to Winfrey’s initial questions about whether he doped.
Like many people in the Texas capital, which is home to a Lance Armstrong Bikeway and the Livestrong cancer foundation Armstrong started, English teacher Paul Lister closely followed Armstrong’s career.
An avid cyclist, Lister chatted with the cycling champion and cancer survivor at cycling events and local music shows over the years, he said.
Now, he said, he and his students are heartbroken.
“I had exalted him as the quintessential, all-American story,” Lister said at Nelo‘s. “He epitomized the American spirit of overcoming adversity, taking over the world.”
Lister said that he does not think Armstrong redeemed himself as a cyclist and competitor.
“As far as restoring his reputation as a human being, maybe,” he said.
Armstrong, who has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, told Winfrey that he cheated in every Tour win.
“I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times,” Armstrong said.
Not everyone in Lance’s city adored him.
Austin cyclist Corinne Karmiel said she grew up watching the Tour de France but had not considered herself an Armstrong fan.
“He doesn’t have a great reputation for being a nice man,” said Karmiel, who was at Nelo’s with friends from her cycling team. “He’s done a lot for cycling and his foundation and has done a lot for the sport. This is a sad day.”
Alex Newman, a cyclist who sells software, said he was disappointed in the first portion of the interview, the second part airs on Friday.
“He’s not really telling the truth in a lot of what he’s saying,” Newman said.
In the interview, Armstrong rejected the suggestion that he failed a doping test in 2001 and then paid off the International Cycling Union (UCI) and doping officials to cover up the result.
Newman said he found it hard to believe Armstrong’s assertion that he made a donation to the UCI because the organization asked him to make one.
“Just because they asked him to?” Newman asked. “Come on.”
Throughout the evening, the mood was jovial, with laughter during commercial breaks, when Nelo’s staff handed out raffle prizes.
At one point, someone in the crowd said: “Me, I think he’s a jerk. Would I ride with him? Yeah. I know plenty of jerks.” (Editing by Corrie MacLaggan)