Lance Armstrong is poised to become a billionaire despite doping downfall

There was a time when Lance Armstrong’s downfall in cycling was going to not only equal a lifetime of shame — but also financial hardship.

Faced with lawsuits seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages for his fraudulent life as a doping cheat — and an aggressively litigious pursuer of anyone who suggested otherwise — Armstrong’s was in strife.

But in his first US television interview since sitting down with Oprah Winfrey in 2013 the cancer survivor who captured the imagination of the world while winning seven Tour de France titles — then having them stripped in the biggest doping scandal in history — has revealed he’s more than landed on his feet.

Now 47, Armstrong reached a $5 million settlement with the US federal government in April when they could have sought up to $100 million if the suit went to trial. But that doesn’t appear to come close to the windfall he’s made on an early investment in Uber.

The Texas native invested $100,000 with a venture capital firm in 2009, the bulk of which went to the ride-sharing app that he says was valued at just $3.7 million at the time.

Today, as the company prepares for its IPO, banks have valued it as high as $120 billion. That could make Armstrong’s shares worth more than $3 billion but he declined to reveal the exact figure, simply telling CNBC the number is “too good to be true” and “it’s saved our family.”

Armstrong’s bonanza was a giant stroke of luck after he received a phone call from former Google employee and now billionaire investor Chris Sacca.

“He was starting his own venture capital fund, Lowercase Capital, and he called me saying ‘I’m looking for investors, would you invest?’” Armstrong said.

“I’m thinking to myself, this guy has a huge personality but he’s also very smart and very well connected. So I invested in Chris Sacca. I didn’t even know that he did Uber. I thought he was buying up a bunch of Twitter shares from employees or former employees, and the biggest investment in (the) Lowercase fund one was Uber.”

Armstrong isn’t apologizing for his financial success, nor does he feel he was let “off easy” in his settlement with the US government.

“I didn’t think I got off scot-free because the settlement for $5 million was probably the 10th settlement … once you total up all of it — loss of guaranteed income, legal fees and settlements — it came to $111 million,” he said. “So I don’t feel like I got off easy.”

Armstrong: Why I remain so hated

Armstrong has a pretty solid spot in the pantheon of most hated sports figures, but he doesn’t sound thrilled with that — or his company.

The former cyclist isn’t quite embracing his place in sports lore. “I do think there’s a double standard,” he said. “But I’m OK with it.”

After his 2013 confession to Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong received a strong amount of backlash, with a healthy amount of anger toward him lingering to this day.

He puts it down to the way he so viciously attacked anyone who questioned him about doping — rather than the cheating itself.

“If you polled the world, the first issue — doping in the sport of cycling — most people have enough knowledge now to know it looked like everybody did it,” he said.

“That isn’t the issue for people. The issue is how I so aggressively defended myself. Being litigious, going after people.

“This idea of bullying … I say it all the time, when I watch old clips … the way I acted — if I saw my children act that way, it would be a very rough conversation.”

Banned from cycling for life in 2012, Armstrong invoked another famous cheater in Alex Rodriguez, the former New York Yankees superstar who received a one-year ban for his role in Biogenesis, but has been able to reclaim a positive spot in the public eye years later.

It’s a luxury Armstrong hasn’t been afforded, despite his Livestrong brand’s work for cancer research.

“Alex Rodriguez didn’t raise half a billion dollars and try to save a bunch of people’s lives,” Armstrong said. “That’s kind of the irony of this. Look, it’s great when somebody hits home runs and maybe does an event here and there for the Girls and Boys Club. This story held a place in people’s hearts and minds that was way beyond those guys.”

Armstrong on that Trump tweet

Armstrong received “tens of thousands” of responses to the Oprah interview in 2013 but one of the more memorable reactions was a tweet by Donald Trump.

Armstrong saw the tweet. “This is six years ago so Donald Trump was just a loudmouth out trying to get attention and that was in a sea of tens of thousands of those so he was just another person,” Armstrong said.

“Now he’s our president, somehow … whatever. He’s half right. He’s going to cost himself a lot of money — we know that happened. And a lifetime of failure … well, I don’t know who judges people’s lifetimes, whether they’re failures or successes or just OK. I don’t feel like a failure and I’ve never felt like a failure since then.”

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