Lance Armstrong had a long fall from grace that started with allegations the perennial Tour de France champion was doping, which were met with Armstrong's vigorous denials and even lawsuits. Finally, the widely admired athlete, cancer survivor and Livestrong Foundation founder admitted to using banned substances in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013.
Armstrong's long overdue mea culpa was not well received, to say the least. In a new episode of Freakanomics Radio, Armstrong tells host Stephen Dubner a story about being berated by a group of strangers at a Colorado brewpub last year who recognized the fallen champion and hurled a tirade of four-letter words at him.
"I'm getting in my Uber and there's one guy goes, 'Hey Lance,' and I fully expected him to go, 'What's up, dude?' and you know, 'Right on man, love you,' you know? And I go 'Hey what's up?' He goes "Fuck you. Fuck you! Fuck --' and he wouldn't stop. And the next thing you know, the entire patio is screaming 'Fuck you, fuck you!'"
For his part, Armstong says he spent years feeling as though he had been given a raw deal, citing the uneven application of doping rules and punishment in cycling. He also says he was frustrated by baseball star Alex Rodriguez being allowed to resurrect his career for similar infractions.
He admits now that, at the time of the Oprah interview he "definitely was not there yet" in terms of reaching a sincere state of contrition for his misdeeds.
He told Dubner he started to face up to his past as more and more fans and supporters shared their feelings of betrayal following the doping revelations, but the life-changing conversation came in a conversation with a former Livestrong employee over a cup of coffee just a year and a half ago.
"I had a longtime employee at Livestrong finally reach out to me after, oddly enough, she rode the whole wave of this thing and then absolutely hated my guts," Armstrong recalled. "I asked her about the process of what was happening at Livestrong while all the accusations were there and there was a lot of smoke - and then eventually there was fire. She walked me through the whole thing, and she said, 'You know, at the end of the day we all felt really complicit.'"
Armstrong goes on to say that the word hurt to hear 100 times more than betrayal.
"I had already started to get my mind and my heart around the fact that people had suffered this tremendous amount of betrayal, and then I was hit with complicit. And it just -- it rocked me to the core. But it was, I tell you, it was the greatest -- her name is Melissa -- the greatest gift that anybody has given me the last six years."
Further evidence that Armstrong is a changed man comes from how he handled the incident with the cursing Colorado crowd that shouted at him as he hurried into an Uber.
"So I got in the car and it was a very short drive to the race. But I'm sitting there and I'm not saying a word but I'm saying to myself, 'You're Lance Armstrong. You have to do something. You're not -- you can't take that.' So I called the bar... I said, 'Here's my credit card number.' I said, 'I want you to walk out there and you buy everything they're eating and drinking. And tell them, tell them, that I understand.' So that was, you know -- me of ten years ago, I would have jumped across the railing and start throwing punches. But me -- and this is 2017 in summer -- sitting in the car saying "I have to act. I got to do something." And that's the best thing that I could come up with. And just to say to those people 'Look, I get it.'"