Washington - Tyler Hamilton, among 11 former team-mates whose testimony led to a life ban against US cycling star Lance Armstrong, said on Friday that he has some sympathy for the former Tour de France champion.
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped Armstrong of seven Tour titles and issued a life ban against him in April for what it dubbed the biggest doping conspiracy in the history of sport in a report revealed this week.
Some of the most damaging testimony against Armstrong came from former team-mates like George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis and Hamilton, who spoke about Armstrong's continued claims of innocence.
"Did he call us liars? No, probably not," Hamilton told CNN. "I understand it's hard. I lied for a long, long time. You start believing some of your lies. He's gotten himself really backed into a corner. I feel for the guy.
"People will eventually forgive Lance Armstrong. He's a hero to many. Sure, he has disappointed some people, but again, people will forgive."
Hamilton said that telling the truth had literally set him free.
"I had been lying since my positive test back in 2004. Part of the reason for lying was to continue with the omerta, the code of silence within the top tier of cycling over there in Europe," Hamilton said.
"It is a bit of a mafia. It's a powerful group. You can say the wrong thing and next thing you know, you don't have a contract for the next year and no other teams want to talk to you.
"But I know, speaking from what I went through, coming out and telling the truth, it feels great."
Hamilton said team doctors helped riders easily evade doping tests during the Tour de France.
"We had good team doctors and the team doctors told us what we could take, how long we could take it, how long it would stay in our system," Hamilton said. "If you followed those simple rules, 99 times out of 100, we're going to pass."
Hamilton said that International Cycling Union (UCI) officials knew Armstrong had escaped a positive doping test by having a backdated prescription for cortisone.
"Back in '99, there was a positive test for cortisone that was covered up with a backdated prescription. You're allowed to take it if you have a prescription for it," Hamilton said.
"And the UCI knew what was going on. They allowed this backdated prescription to happen.
"I think it's a lot cleaner than it was, certainly. And that's definitely encouraging. But some of that stuff that I've read recently, I don't think that cycling is out of the woods yet. I think there's still room for improvement."