In an interview that aired on today’s American Morning, CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke exclusively with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, just after he took third place at the Tour de France this weekend. Armstrong spoke candidly about the challenges he faced after a four year break, drug tests, his critics and why he has committed to race in 2010.
Gupta: Coming in first – is that something you thought about? Did you care? You’re right it’s not about the bike but do you care if you if you come in first or not?
Armstrong: I wanted to come in first…but sometimes in sports, there is somebody that’s better. And I was that guy for 7 years. And I never understood what it felt like to come in second or third. I’m 38 now, and you race guys who are 24, 25, or 26 and they’re fast, and strong. They have acceleration; they have all the things you had when you were that age. Then you get third. But that’s the great thing about the tour. The best man always wins.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Today has been a remarkable 22 days for Lance Armstrong right here in France. Tour de France started in Monaco, ended right here in Paris. Fans, cancer survivors from all over the world really cheering on the seven-time Tour de France winner.
Now I set on the board of Lance Armstrong, and I can tell you, after a four-year hiatus it was a big decision for him. I caught up with him just a few hours after he took third place at the Tour de France to talk about some of the challenges, to talk about some of the criticisms that have been waged against him, and how he responds to those and to simply ask him why he decided to get involved in all of this again.
GUPTA (on camera): Coming in first, is that something you thought about? I mean, did you care? You write it’s not about the bike. But do you care if you come in first or not?
LANCE ARMSTRONG, THIRD PLACE AT TOUR DE FRANCE: Well, I wanted to come in first. But sometimes in sports there’s somebody that’s better.
And I was that guy for seven years. And I never understood what it felt like to get second or third. I’m 38 now. And you race guys that are 24 or 25 or 26, and they’re fast, they’re strong. They have acceleration.
They have all of the things that you had at that age. And you get third. That’s what the great thing about the Tour is that the best man always wins.
GUPTA: How was this race different for you in terms of how you trained, what you ate? Were there differences compared to five years ago?
ARMSTRONG: Well, I used a lot of the same training, the same idea with diet. I mean, the only difference, I guess, is that I’m now 38 years old. So a 38-year-old man does not wake up every day like a 28-year-old. But I can’t even complain. I mean, I think I rode well.
GUPTA: Why come back after four years? What inspired this?
ARMSTRONG: Obviously, I have to have a love for the bike. I have to have a love for the Tour. Otherwise, this is too hard. It’s just way too damn hard to go out and do this. But my passion for fighting cancer and fighting it not just in Texas or the United States but around the world.
GUPTA: When you look at you the man, Lance, and the issue of cancer, do you think that people separate that? I mean, do they understand why you’re riding and why you came back?
ARMSTRONG: Yes, I think so. You know, these days it’s easy to get feedback. When people have a comment or have an issue, they let you know. And most of them are regarding cancer. So that tells me that the people understand. They’ve been affected either themselves or a loved one and they understand it. And then they say keep going. You know, pedal hard for them tomorrow. Pedal hard for my mom or my neighbor or my co-worker.
GUPTA: One of the things you mention — you talked a lot about during the whole tour was surprise test for doping. They just come and surprise you.
ARMSTRONG: They’re not surprises any more.
GUPTA: Not surprising — 40, I think over 40 tests.
ARMSTRONG: They’re 50 — they’re 50 now.
GUPTA: What do you say to the critics? What do you say to the skeptics now at the end of the tour?
ARMSTRONG: Look, I’ve done this a long time. And I’ve been at the highest level now since 1992 until 2009. I’ve been tested more than anybody else. If I can take four years off and come back at the age of 38 with more controls than anybody else on planet Earth and get third in the hardest sporting event in the world, I think we’ve answered the questions.