11 teammates testified in case against Armstrong
ap national writer
Lance Armstrong challenged the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to name names and show what it had on him.
On Wednesday, it did.
The anti-doping group released a report on its case against Armstrong – a point-by-point roadmap of the lengths it says Armstrong went to in winning seven Tour de France titles USADA has ordered taken away.
In more than 150 pages filled with allegations, USADA names 11 former teammates – George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis among them – as key witnesses.
It details the way those men and others say drugs were delivered and administered to Armstrong’s teams. It discusses Armstrong’s continuing relationship with and payments to a doctor, Michele Ferrari, years after Ferrari was sanctioned in Italy and Armstrong claimed to have broken ties with him.
It presents as matter-of-fact reality that winning and doping went hand in hand in cycling and that Armstrong’s teams were the best at getting it done without getting caught. He won the Tour as leader of the U.S. Postal Service team from 1999-2004 and again in 2005 with the Discovery Channel as the primary sponsor.
The report also uses Armstrong’s own words against him.
“We had one goal and one ambition and that was to win the greatest bike race in the world and not just to win it once, but to keep winning it,” Armstrong is quoted as testifying in an earlier legal proceeding.
But, USADA said, the path Armstrong chose to pursue his goals “ran far outside the rules.” It accuses him of depending on performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his victories and “more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his teammates” do the same.
Armstrong did not fight the USADA charges, but insists he never cheated.
His attorney, Tim Herman, called the report “a one-sided hatchet job – a taxpayer funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories.”
Aware of the criticism his agency has faced from Armstrong and his legion of followers, USADA Chief Executive Travis Tygart insisted his group handled this case under the same rules as any other. He pointed out that Armstrong was given the chance to take his case to arbitration and he declined, choosing in August to accept the sanctions instead.
“We focused solely on finding the truth without being influenced by celebrity or non-celebrity, threats, personal attacks or political pressure because that is what clean athletes deserve and demand,” Tygart said.
Some of the newest information – never spelled out in detail before Wednesday – includes USADA’s depiction of Armstrong’s continuing relationship with Ferrari. Like Armstrong, he has received a lifetime ban from USADA.
Ferrari, long thought of as the mastermind of Armstrong’s alleged doping plan, was investigated in Italy and Armstrong claimed he had cut ties with him after a 2004 conviction. USADA cites financial records that show payments of at least $210,000 in the two years after that.
“The repeated efforts by Armstrong and his representatives to mischaracterize and minimize Armstrong’s relationship with Ferrari are indicative of the true nature of that relationship,” the report states. “If there is not something to hide, there is no need to hide it and certainly no need to repeatedly lie about it.”
In some ways, the USADA report simply pulls together and amplifies allegations that have followed Armstrong ever since he beat cancer and won the Tour for the first time. At various times and in different forums, Landis, Hamilton and others have said that Armstrong encouraged doping on his team and used banned substances himself.
While the arguments about Armstrong will continue among sports fans – and there is still a question of whether USADA or the International Cycling Union (UCI) has ultimate control of taking away his Tour titles – the new report puts a cap on a long round of official investigations. Armstrong was cleared of criminal charges in February after a federal grand jury probe that lasted about two years.
Tygart said evidence from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the U.S. Postal Service team’s doping activities, provided material for the report. Other cyclists interviewed by USADA included Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie.
Tygart said the evidence shows the code of silence that dominated cycling has been shattered.
“It took tremendous courage for the riders on the USPS Team and others to come forward and speak truthfully,” he said. “It is not easy to admit your mistakes and accept your punishment. But that is what these riders have done for the good of the sport.”
In a letter sent to USADA attorneys Tuesday, Herman dismissed any evidence provided by Landis and Hamilton, calling them “serial perjurers and have told diametrically contradictory stories under oath.”
Hincapie’s role in the investigation – not confirmed until Wednesday’s report – could be more damaging, as he was one of Armstrong’s closest and most loyal teammates through the years.
“Two years ago, I was approached by U.S. federal investigators, and more recently by USADA, and asked to tell of my personal experience in these matters,” the cyclist said in a statement published shortly after USADA’s release. “I would have been much more comfortable talking only about myself, but understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything I knew. So that is what I did.”
Hincapie’s two-page statement did not mention Armstrong by name.
Written in a more conversational style than a typical legal document, the report lays out in chronological order, starting in 1998 and running through 2009:
– Multiple examples of Armstrong using the blood-boosting hormone EPO, citing the “clear finding” of EPO in six blood samples from the 1999 Tour de France that were retested. UCI concluded those samples were mishandled and couldn’t be used to prove anything. In bringing up the samples, USADA said it considers them corroborating evidence that isn’t necessary given the testimony of its witnesses.
– Testimony from Hamilton, Landis and Hincapie, all of whom say they received EPO from Armstrong.
– Evidence of the pressure Armstrong put on the riders to go along with the doping program.
“The conversation left me with no question that I was in the doghouse and that the only way forward with Armstrong’s team was to get fully on Dr. Ferrari’s doping program,” Vande Velde said in his testimony.
– What Vaughters called “an outstanding early warning system regarding drug tests.” One example came in 2000, when Hincapie found out there were drug testers at the hotel where Armstrong’s team was staying. Aware Armstrong had taken testosterone before the race, Hincapie alerted him and Armstrong dropped out of the race to avoid being tested, the report said.
Though she didn’t testify, Armstrong’s ex-wife, Kristin, is mentioned 30 times in the report.
In one episode, Armstrong asks her to wrap banned cortisone pills in tin foil to hand out to his teammates.
“Kristin obliged Armstrong’s request by wrapping the pills and handing them to the riders. One of the riders remarked, ‘Lance’s wife is rolling joints,”‘ the report read. Attempts to reach Kristin Armstrong were unsuccessful.
In addition to Armstrong and Ferrari, another player in the Postal team circle, Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral, also received a lifetime ban as part of the case.
Three other members of the USPS team will take their cases to arbitration. They are team director Johan Bruyneel, team doctor Pedro Celaya and team trainer Jose “Pepe” Marti.
Armstrong chose not to pursue the case and instead accepted the sanction, though he has consistently argued that the USADA system was rigged against him, calling the agency’s effort a “witch hunt” that used special rules it doesn’t follow in all its other cases.
The UCI has asked for details of the case before it decides whether to sign off on the sanctions. It has has 21 days to appeal the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
USADA has said it doesn’t need UCI’s approval and Armstrong’s penalties already are in place.
UCI President Pat McQuaid, who is in China for the Tour of Beijing, did not respond to telephone calls from The Associated Press requesting comment.
The report also will go to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which also has the right to appeal, but so far has supported USADA’s position in the Armstrong case.
ASO, the company that runs the Tour de France and could have a say in where Armstrong’s titles eventually go, said it has “no particular comment to make on this subject.”
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