A United States expert on narcissism says Lance Armstrong's actions in New Zealand while here for a beer company promotion suggest he hasn't changed.

"People like Lance Armstrong don't really apologise because admitting they were wrong is a challenge to their inflated and idealised sense of self," Dr Joseph Burgo, a clinical psychologist specialising in narcissism, told the Herald.

Armstrong said he was sorry for betraying fans and that he wanted to apologise to his former Kiwi teammate Stephen Swart who he had called a deranged liar when Swart told the truth about doping. An associate of Swart's who helped arrange rides for Armstrong gave the American the telephone number but he didn't call.

The Herald has confirmed that Armstrong also didn't take the chance to ring Mike Anderson, his former friend and mechanic who moved to New Zealand after they fell out. Anderson did not want to comment but has previously said the problem he had with Armstrong was how vengeful he was. The last straw was finding steroids in Armstrong's apartment in Spain during the Texan's domination of the Tour de France.


"Saying you're sorry you 'betrayed your fans' is easy and relatively meaningless, Burgo told the Herald by email. He doesn't have a personal relationship with any of those people.

"Apologising to someone you actively sought to injure is an entirely different matter. For Armstrong to truly change, he'd have to feel genuine regret for deliberately seeking to wound people who once mattered to him."

Armstrong did, however, take the opportunity to meet fans. A few hundred joined him for a social media ride along Auckland's waterfront before he flew to Hawaii to holiday with family.

"In my view, Armstrong wants badly to retrieve his hero status and to experience the adoration of his fans," Burgo said. "He doesn't feel guilty or responsible for anything that he has done. He just had the bad luck to get caught."

Armstrong was stripped of seven Tour de France titles after the United States Anti-doping Authority exposed what it said was "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".

Armstrong refused to cooperate and was banned for life, a penalty he has said is unfair as others received lesser bans.

Burgo, who has made a study of Armstrong, featuring him in his books and articles, said claiming he is a victim serves Armstrong's purposes.

"By portraying himself as a victim of the anti-doping authorities, he avoids taking responsibility for what was truly reprehensible about his behaviour: the way he savaged the reputations of anyone who threatened to expose him or challenge his heroic image."

In How Aggressive Narcissism Explains Lance Armstrong, published in The Atlantic, Burgo wrote that it was a defence mechanism to ward off "unconscious feelings of shame, defect or inferiority" that are rooted in his early life: a young mother, a father who abandoned him, a step-father he never bonded with.

It was the kind of chaotic early life that could instil a sense of "shame and unworthiness".

The bike was Armstrong's chance to rise above.

"The narcissist lives in a world populated by two classes of people, the winners and the losers," Burgo wrote in the article. "His constant aim in life is to prove he's a winner and to triumph over the losers."

Armstrong's psychological need to win made the morality of his actions irrelevant to him, Burgo said.

Admiration was also important and Armstrong, a cancer survivor, was able to become not just a winner but a hero.

Armstrong's attacks on many people was consistent with the behaviour of a narcissist who feels his idealised self-image is threatened.

Burgo told the Herald that he thinks the prospect of Armstrong changing is low.

"I think that a genuine and heartfelt apology would be necessary for Armstrong to heal. Feeling sorry that you got caught or sorry that people don't idealise you any more is not at all the same thing as true guilt or remorse.

"Narcissists like Armstrong almost never seek therapy because they're so heavily defended; their grandiosity is central to their identity. Sometimes, if they 'hit bottom' and lose everything, they might seek therapy, but usually they continue being exactly who they've always been."