Lance Armstrong at centre of most sophisticated doping programme
Lance Armstrong was at centre of most sophisticated drugs programme in sporting history and ruthlessly pressured teammates to take part, says Usada report
Page after page of damning details. They came from computer records, books, media reports and, maybe most significantly, the people Lance Armstrong used to train alongside and celebrate with. The people he used to call his friends.
Hit with a lifetime ban and the loss of all seven of his Tour de France titles, Armstrong challenged the US Anti-Doping Agency to give him the names of all his accusers. The agency obliged, listing 26, including 11 former teammates.
Armstrong said he wanted to see the hard evidence that he was a doper, and Usada gave him that, too, in the form of a 200-page tome filled with vivid recollections – the hotel rooms riders transformed into makeshift blood transfusion centres, the way Armstrong’s former wife rolled cortisone pills into foil and handed them out to the cyclists.
The report depicts what Usada chief Travis Tygart called “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.
Armstrong’s attorney called it a “one-sided hatchet job”. Either way, it serves up the most detailed, unflinching portrayal yet of Armstrong as a man who would pay virtually any price – financially, emotionally and physically – to win the seven Tour de France titles the anti-doping agency has ordered taken away.
It shows that winning and doping went hand-in-hand in cycling and that Armstrong was the focal point of a big operation, running teams who were the best at doing it without getting caught.
Armstrong won the Tour as leader of the US Postal Service team from 1999-2004 and again in 2005 with the Discovery Channel as the primary sponsor.
Usada said the path Armstrong chose to pursue his goals “ran far outside the rules”.
It accuses the cyclist of depending on performance enhancing drugs to fuel his victories and “more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his teammates” do the same.
Among the 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong are George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.
Aware of the criticism his agency has faced from Armstrong and his legion of followers, Tygart insisted his group handled this case under the same rules as any other. Armstrong was given the chance to take his case to arbitration and declined, choosing in August to accept the sanctions instead, Tygart noted.
“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.
The report called the evidence “as strong, or stronger, than any case brought in Usada’s 12 years of existence”.
The testimony of Hincapie, one of Armstrong’s closest and most loyal teammates through the years, was one of the report’s new revelations. “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 said of his testimony to federal investigators and Usada.
His two-page statement did not mention Armstrong by name. Neither did statements from three other teammates-turned-witnesses, all of whom said this was a difficult but necessary process.
“I have failed and I have succeeded in one of the most humbling sports in the world,” former Armstrong teammate Christian Vande Velde said. “And today is the most humbling moment of my life.”
Tygart said evidence from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the US Postal Service team’s doping activities, provided material for the report.
The agency also interviewed Frankie Andreu, Levi Leipheimer, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie. Andreu’s wife Betsy was another key witness.
She has been one of Armstrong’s most consistent and unapologetic critics.
“It took tremendous courage for the riders on the USPS team and others to come forward and speak truthfully,” Tygart said.
In some ways, the Usada report simply pulls together allegations that have followed Armstrong ever since he beat cancer and first won the Tour.
At various times, Landis, Hamilton and others have said that Armstrong encouraged doping on his team and used banned substances himself.
But for those who have followed Armstrong and his story, this is a page-turner. The report lays out in chronological order, starting in 1998 and running through to 2009:
- Multiple examples of Armstrong using drugs, including the blood-boosting hormone EPO, citing the “clear finding” of EPO in six blood samples from the 1999 Tour that were retested. The International Cycling Union concluded those samples were mishandled and couldn’t be used to prove anything. Usada said they are corroborating evidence that isn’t even 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 programme.
Some of the newest information – never spelled out in detail before – includes a depiction of Armstrong’s continuing relationship with physician and training guru Michele Ferrari. Like Armstrong, Ferrari has received a lifetime ban from Usada.
Long thought of as the mastermind of Armstrong’s alleged doping plan, Ferrari was investigated in Italy. Armstrong claimed he cut ties with him after a 2004 conviction that was later overturned.
But Usada cites financial records that show payments of at least US$210,000 in the two years after that. It also cited e-mails from 2009 showing Armstrong asking Ferrari’s son if he could make a US$25,000 cash payment the next time they saw each other.
“The repeated efforts by Armstrong and his representatives to mischaracterise and minimise 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.”
What former teammates of Lance Armstrong told the US Anti-Doping Agency.
Armstrong teammate for parts of nine seasons (1992-1996, 1998-2002). Retired from cycling in 2000. Admitted doping. Said he over overheard Armstrong in 1996 acknowledge use of EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone, steroids and cortisone.
Armstrong teammate for four seasons (2002-2005). Said US Postal team doctors and staff gave him banned drugs.
A teammate of Armstrong for one season (2005). Admitted doping. Said team supplied him with drugs, including EPO.
Armstrong teammate for four seasons (1998-2001) and winner of 2004 Olympic gold medal of which he was later stripped. Admitted doping. Said he saw Armstrong take EPO and testosterone during 1999 Tour de France and testosterone in 2000. Said he received blood transfusions with Armstrong during 2000 Tour de France and Armstrong gave him EPO in 1999 and 2001.
Armstrong teammate for 11 seasons (1994-1996, 1998-2005) and only cyclist to ride with Armstrong in all seven Tour de France victories. Admitted doping. Said he was on blood doping programme from 2001-2005 and knew Armstrong was as well. Said he was aware Armstrong was using EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions. Once alerted Armstrong to presence of drug testers before a race in Spain; Armstrong dropped out of race.
Armstrong teammate for three seasons (2002-2004). Won Tour de France in 2006, but lost title after testing positive for testosterone. Admitted doping. Said he received testosterone from Armstrong in 2002, EPO from him in 2002 and 2003 and saw Armstrong use EPO in 2004. Said he received blood transfusions with Armstrong at 2002 and 2003 Tours de France.
Teammate of Armstrong for five seasons (2001-2002, 2009-2011). Admitted doping. Said Armstrong told him in 2009 he was using middle man to work with team advisor Dr Michele Ferrari.
Christian Vande Velde
Armstrong teammate for five seasons (1998-2003). Admitted doping. Said he was told by Armstrong his standing with team depended on following team doping programme. Said saw Armstrong’s wife, Kristen, give cortisone pills to riders at 1998 world championships.
Teammate of Armstrong for two seasons (1998-1999). Said he saw Armstrong inject EPO in 1998.
Armstrong teammate for four seasons (2001-2004). Said US Postal Service team director Johan Bruyneel and team doctor Luis Garcia del Moral introduced him to doping.