The Irish masseuse who outed Lance Armstrong as a drugs cheat has come face to face with the disgraced cyclist in a Florida hotel.
Dubliner Emma O’Reilly was the masseuse for the US Postal Service cycling team when she first blew the whistle on the drug culture within the Armstrong camp.
She was branded an ‘alcoholic whore’ and threatened with legal action by Armstrong when she first broke her silence, years after quitting the team in 2000.
Armstrong identified O’Reilly as one of those he needs to make amends with after he confessed to years of drug use on the Oprah Winfrey Show in January.
Now the pair have met in an Orlando hotel, the meeting captured on video and on the record by the Daily Mail website.
O’Reilly explained why she wanted to meet Armstrong personally to reporter Matt Lawton.
She said: “It was too big a situation to just have a chat about it on the phone, I wanted to eyeball him. You can’t keep kicking an injured dog. I wasn’t here to humiliate him. But I wanted closure.”
Armstrong traveled from his Texas home for the meeting and hugged O’Reilly in the hotel lobby when they first met.
She explained how she wanted to set the record straight for the sake of her former boyfriend Mike Carlisle, then suffering from the early stages of MS when Armstrong made the vicious claims against her.
O’Reilly told Armstrong: “I took what you said about me on the chin but what upset me more was the way it hurt my boyfriend at the time, Mike.
“You’re a lad’s lad, Lance, and if someone had said that about your girlfriend you’d be very upset.”
Before the pair headed out for a private dinner, Armstrong told the Daily Mail: “I never expected to see Emma. I wanted to talk to her. I felt it was necessary to have a conversation because there were definitely people that got caught up in this story who deserved an apology from me.
“When I reached out in January it was to talk. Emma, I appreciate, wasn’t ready for that. But it’s good that, tonight, we are doing this in person.
“At the time, when I said what I said about her, I was fighting to protect a lot of positions. But it was inexcusable. It’s embarrassing.
“I was in a conference room, giving a legal deposition, and I had no idea it was going to get out. But that doesn’t excuse it. I guess you should always assume that, in that setting, the whole world will watch it the next day.
“It was totally humiliating for Emma. And if I saw my son do that, there would be a f***ing war in our house.’
O’Reilly told Armstrong and the paper why she outed the drugs culture within the sport.
She said: “I implicated other riders as well as the management of the team. But it became about Lance when I felt I was trying to help clean up cycling and protect these young lads who were being pressured into taking drugs.
“I felt I was part of the problem. The doctors were allowing riders to seriously mess with their health and my silence was enabling it to continue. It was almost like I’d be lying if I didn’t tell the truth.”
Addressing Armstrong, she added: “Lance, the people who should have been protecting the riders weren’t protecting you.” Armstrong responded: “I have a slightly different view because I was that rider. And like most of the guys I was faced with a decision early in my career. Most of us were uneducated, from low-income families. It was do this and have a career or go work in Starbucks.”
O’Reilly told the paper she does not want Armstrong to suffer alone.
She said: “Lance is taking the blame for everyone and I just don’t feel that is right. He is serving a lifetime ban when other riders on the team have served six-month suspensions. Why are they only going after Lance? Why are they not going after all the owners of the team?”
Later, Armstrong tells O’Reilly that he was never going to take legal action against her.
She insisted: “The personal attack from Lance I could deal with. What was more difficult was the stress caused by the fear of someone of Lance’s wealth and power coming after me legally. Mike and I thought we were in danger of losing everything. It terrified us.
“But, looking into it now, I’m not sure Lance ever did sue me at home in the UK. It was only in France - where the 'LA Confidential' book in which my original interview appeared was published - that I was named in proceedings.”
On her return from her private dinner with Armstrong, O’Reilly told the Daily Mail: “The atmosphere over dinner was fine.
“It was a bit stilted because I guess we were two people who hadn’t talked for a long time, who had more than a bit of history.
“But we had a chat about people we knew, about our families. I feel he was straight when it came to this meeting. He let me say when and where, he booked his flights before he knew you were coming and he came alone.
“I was thinking, he never actually used the word sorry. But I wasn’t looking for an insincere apology. There are different ways of saying sorry and I felt what he did say was genuine.
“Now people might think I’m under Lance’s spell but I’m not. I wasn’t when I said what I did about him in 2004 and I’m not now. He was a jerk. He was a bully.
“But there are wider issues here and I wanted to address those, too. That said, I wanted closure with him and today I feel I have it. This part, for me, is over.”