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Lance Armstrong has announced his return to cycling.
The disgraced professional cyclist, who admitted to using banned substances in a highly publicized interview with Oprah Winfrey in January, says he plans to take part in The Des Moines Register‘s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa this month.
“I’m well aware my presence is not an easy topic, and so I encourage people if they want to give a high-five, great,” he told the Register. “If you want to shoot me the bird, that’s OK, too.”
Armstrong has been banned from professional cycling for life. He also has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in addition to the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
“To be honest, it’s not a statement, it’s not an experiment,” Armstrong said of his decision to take part in the Iowa event. “It’s just me wanting to go ride my bike with what in the past has been a friendly group of people who share the same interests.”
This will mark his fifth time in the six-day Great Bicycle Ride — kicking off July 21, which also happens to be the final day of the 2013 Tour de France — and his first major public appearance since his confession to Winfrey.
Said the Iowa event’s director, T.J. Juskiewicz, “We are open to anyone who wants to come ride RAGBRAI.”
Since his confession, Armstrong has been slapped with up to $135 million in liabilities from a series of lawsuits.
“I’m committing to working through them, and whether it’s settling cases or whether it’s fighting some cases — because some have merit, some don’t,” he told the Des Moines newspaper. “But I’m committed to the process, and that’s probably as much as I would and could say about it. That’s a tricky area there. Unless you have $135 million you want to let me borrow, or have?”
In his sitdown with Winfrey, Armstrong admitted that he had used banned substances — EPO, testosterone and human growth hormone — as well as blood doping or blood transfusion to enhance his performance.
Asked by Winfrey why he finally decided to tell the truth after years of denials, Armstrong replied: “I don’t know that I have a great answer. I will start my answer by saying this is too late. It’s too late for probably most people. And that’s my fault. I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. It wasn’t as if I said no and I moved off it.”
He also told Winfrey he felt his punishment was too harsh.
“I deserve to be punished. I’m not sure I deserve a death penalty,” he said, adding that he feels that some of his fellow teammates got off easier than he did. “If I could go back to that time, trading my story for a six-month suspension — what other people got. I got a death penalty, and they got six months. I’m not saying that’s unfair necessarily; I’m saying it’s different.”
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