It was a talk show host's question, not necessarily a journalist's. And it was brutally effective. Armstrong seemed initially taken aback but admitted to it and explained what led to his behavior.
She showed tapes of Armstrong's aggressive denials through the years and explained how he often set his lawyers on old friends or colleagues that accused him of doping.
"You're suing people and you know they're telling the truth?" Winfrey said. "What is that?"
"It's a major flaw," Armstrong answered, blandly. Winfrey could have come at him even harder.
In an especially chilling and effective passage, Winfrey got Armstrong to admit he didn't feel what he was doing was wrong at the time. He didn't feel like he was cheating.
Winfrey showed some nervousness after the interview's strong opening that manifested itself in interrupting Armstrong before he could fully answer a question. An effective TV interviewer needs to know when to give the subject some space and when to bore in, and Winfrey mostly achieved that mix after settling down.
After Armstrong batted away a general question about the doping culture - "how did it all work?" - Winfrey quickly learned to be specific in these discussions. At one point Armstrong acknowledged calling one former friend who had turned on him crazy and a bitch, "but I never called her fat." It was ridiculous, and Winfrey should have called him on it.
Winfrey's struggling OWN network took advantage of the high-profile interview by using virtually every commercial break to promote its other programming. The time between commercial breaks shortened to the point of distraction in the final third of the 90-minute program.
Winfrey asked the most pressing question after Armstrong got his admissions out of the way at the top of the show.
"For 13 years you didn't just deny it, you brazenly and defiantly denied everything you just admitted right now," she said. "So why now admit it?"
Armstrong acknowledged the importance of the question, and said he had no real answer. One suspects that if the question is asked again, and yet again if need be, that an answer might emerge. That's something to look forward to in Friday's Part two.