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Lance Armstrong apologises to charity staff ahead of Oprah

Hours before taping an interview in which he is expected to confess to allegations of doping, Lance Armstrong was said to have apologised to staff at his Livestrong cancer foundation yesterday.

As news camera crews massed near his villa in Austin, Texas, for the interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong said "I'm sorry" to the men and women who work at the charity. The cyclist, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year, choked up as he addressed staff, many of whom cried, according to the Associated Press (AP), which quoted an unidentified person with knowledge of the situation.

But Armstrong, who only hours later was expected to put a decade of denials behind him and reportedly admit to doping during his professional cycling career, did not make a direct confession about drugs to the Livestrong team. Instead, he is said to have apologised for letting them down, and for putting the foundation, which he chaired until last year, at risk.

Oprah Winfrey, meanwhile, was preparing to sit down with the cyclist in his first interview since he was stripped of his Tour de France honours in the wake of a damning report by the US anti-doping agency, USADA. A confession would mark a major reversal by Armstrong, who in the past has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The USADA claimed Armstrong's involvement in what is said was the "most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen."

At the weekend, on the eve of the Oprah interview, the cyclist - once an unlikely American hero in sport associated in the public mind with Europeans - was reported to have phoned up a series of figures in the cycling community to tender a direct apology.

Earlier, in a text message to the AP, Armstrong, while not revealing whether he would make a confession, said: "I told her [Winfrey] to go wherever she wants and I'll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That's all I can say." The prospect has already shaken the world of cycling - and those who keep tabs on it. Last summer, before the USADA report, the Pulitzer-prizewinning journalist and author Buzz Bissinger wrote a cover story for Newsweek magazine which was headlined: "I still believe in Lance Armstrong."

Yesterday, he published a mea culpa on the Daily Beast website, with the new piece carrying the headline: "I was deluded to believe Lance Armstrong when he denied doping".

"My cover story about Lance Armstrong, my affirmation of faith, was the worst piece of opinion I have ever written. I did a disservice to myself. More important, I did a disservice to readers," he wrote.

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