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Can Lance Armstrong ever win back public respect?

Lance Armstrong's confession is to air on Oprah Winfrey's network in the early hours of Friday morning. Photo: Reuters

Hanging on the walls at Mellow Johnny's, the bike shop part owned by Lance Armstrong, are his seven Tour de France yellow jerseys. Once a symbol of his astonishing success, an inspiration to so many other cancer survivors but now a symbol of his shame.

But they won't be coming down. Austin, is very forgiving of its favourite son. Ask people whether they feel betrayed by him, by his cheating or his decade long denials and more often than not you will get the answer "no".

The rationale being that in the cycling world he dominated, everyone was at it. Besides that, this is a man who not only beat cancer and remains an inspiration to others who continue to fight the disease, but he is also a man whose cancer charity has raised half a billion dollars.

In short, all this outweighs his lies and his attempts to destroy those who challenged him - those who have exposed his unpleasant secrets.

Armstrong phones Mellow Johnny's on a regular basis just to see how business is going.

The shop manager there told me Armstrong uses the figures to gauge public opinion and while foot fall hasn't decreased dramatically since the disgraced cyclist was stripped of all his tour titles, online sales, especially from overseas, have dropped.

Lance Armstrong's Livestrong charity raised half a billion dollars in the fight against cancer. Credit: PA

This may have contributed to Armstrong's decision to unburden himself to Oprah Winfrey. He did have the opportunity to confess all just a few months ago when the US anti doping agency launched its investigation into to him and the US postal team, but he chose not to.

Armstrong likes to do things on his own terms. Not only did he refuse to cooperate but he accused the agency of a witch hunt.

It is the last feeble cry of a man who had run out of road and a desperate attempt to protect a reputation that he knew was about to be savaged.

So what is his motivation behind this confession? Well, on the face of it he had two options - either tell the truth now or prepare to live the rest of his life, largely as an outcast. A very wealthy outcast but an outcast nevertheless.

What happens next is the really significant part. At the moment we can only guess what level of detail Armstrong has gone into with Winfrey but to be frank apart from being potential 'television gold' that is largely irrelevant.

Until he sits down under oath and reveals everything he knows - from the names of the doctors who helped him, the names of his suppliers, the drugs he took and how he managed to avoid giving a single positive test, cycling can not fully cleanse itself.

A by-product and another motivation for Armstrong would be a reduction in his lifetime ban. He still wants to compete in officially sanctioned triathlons and marathons. Total cooperation with the authorities could see his ban reduced to eight years. By then he'll be pushing 50 but this is a man for whom competition is oxygen. A life without any sporting challenge is a life Armstrong cannot contemplate.

For the first time in a very long time Armstrong can't control his own destiny. He has potentially opened himself up to multiple law suits from former sponsors and those who paid him appearance fees and prize money. But he will have assessed all this before deciding to broadcast his primetime mea culpa.

An effigy of Lance Armstrong was burned at a bonfire in Kent last November. Credit: PA

He is an incredibly wealthy man and can almost certainly strike private deals with those who come after him and still end up with a bank balance of tens of millions.

Whether this interview is a cleverly thought out PR move, dreamt up by his inner circle, or is just Armstrong's instinct on show, it may well work and the future might not be so barren for him after all.

But it is important for all of us to remember, as Armstrong starts out along Redemption Road, not so much that he cheated in the first place but what happened subsequently.

The cover ups, the lies, the efforts to bully and discredit others who were telling the truth all along, the money he took through cheating and above all holding himself up as a cancer survivor, achieving super human feats through hard work and determination alone. Perhaps that is the biggest deceit of all.

Having said that, I sat opposite a young cancer survivor in Austin this week and asked if she felt betrayed by him. Not a bit of it, she said her inspiration came not from his success but the simple fact that after conquering the disease Armstrong got back on his bike.

She couldn't care less about his cheating or his trophies, he could have come last in every race he entered as far as she was concerned. That he rode again at all was what inspired her. It's an impossible position to argue against.

Famously, Bill Clinton apologised for his sexual misdemeanours and is now as popular in the States as he's ever been. But his mistake was eventually accepted as something of a charming weakness.

It is unlikely Armstrong's confession will have the same impact. His was not a moment of madness but a decade of systematic doping which he managed like a ruthless CEO, seemingly totally unconcerned about the human casualties he left in his wake.

That's why winning back some respect might just be possible but winning back any affection is something else entirely.

Except in Austin, Texas of course.

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