USADA says it has ‘conclusive and undeniable proof’ of Lance Armstrong doping conspiracy

October 10, 2012

Lance Armstrong achieved his unparalleled cycling feats as the driving force behind what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency characterized as “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen,” according to a report released by the agency Wednesday.

Armstrong not only won his record seven Tour de France titles “from start to finish by doping,” the agency said, but he also trafficked in banned substances, pressured teammates on the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling team to dope as well, and threatened those who would testify against him or any of his close-knit circle of suppliers. The voluminous and personally damning report is based largely on the sworn testimony of 26 people, 11 of them Armstrong’s former teammates.

The more than 1,000-page dossier, which was prepared for the sport’s international governing body, portrays Armstrong as a serial cheater and a vengeful, venal human being. Having stripped Armstrong of his Tour de France titles and banished him from competitive cycling in August, USADA, through the report, now stands to erode Armstrong’s remaining appeal to the corporate sponsors that have supported him and the cancer foundation that bears his name.

For all of its heft, however, the document does not contain unassailable proof of a single positive drug test. And throughout years-old claims that his athletic triumphs were tainted has been the basis of Armstrong’s defense: that he has never failed a drug test.

Armstrong’s lawyer Timothy Herman countered Wednesday with a statement attacking the report as “a one-sided hatchet job . . . rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories.”

While allegations that Armstrong doped his way to victory are hardly new, three aspects of USADA’s report are revelatory: the widening circle of teammates and associates coming forward with first-hand accounts of his use of EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions; detailed accusations that he insisted key USPS teammates, who were essential to his Tour de France victories, take part in what’s portrayed as a highly sophisticated doping program; and testimony that Armstrong threatened those in position to expose or testify against him.

USADA’s raft of documents, which it labeled as its “reasoned decision,” was sent to the International Cycling Union (UCI), World Anti-Doping Agency and the World Triathlon Corporation detailing the evidence on which it stripped Armstrong of his cycling titles from 1998 on and banned him from the sport after he refused in August to engage in arbitration.

In addition to the testimony of 26 people, the report includes financial payments, e-mails, scientific data and laboratory test results that Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, said amounted to “conclusive and undeniable proof that” Armstrong, the USPS team’s star rider, used, possessed and distributed performance-enhancing drugs.

Within hours of the report’s release, cyclist George Hincapie, a longtime friend and teammate of Armstrong’s, posted a statement on his Web site admitting that he, too, doped as a member of the USPS team. Hincapie was among those whom USADA says testified about his first-hand knowledge of Armstrong’s doping practices.

The other former USPS teammates who testified were Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie. The six active riders among them have been suspended for six months for their admission of doping, a light punishment granted in exchange for their testimony.

Tygart hailed the riders’ “tremendous courage” in coming forward to speak against cycling’s icon and the team’s illicit practices.

“In some part, it would have been easier for them if it all would just go away,” Tygart said in a statement. “However, they love the sport, and they want to help young athletes have hope that they are not put in the position they were: To face the reality that in order to climb to the heights of their sport they had to sink to the depths of dangerous cheating.”

In addition, two of the USPS team’s physicians, Michele Ferrari and Garcia del Moral, have also been given lifetime bans by USADA for their part in the doping conspiracy. Three others are contesting the charged through arbitration: team director Johan Bruyneel; Pedro Celaya, a team doctor; and team trainer Jose “Pepe” Marti.

Armstrong, 41, who survived a battle with testicular cancer, has fought doping allegations much of his career. But he abandoned his legal fight in August. Going forward would have meant having to testify under oath against the claims of nearly a dozen former teammates; giving up the fight was tantamount to a no-contest plea, guaranteeing he would be stripped of his titles and banned from the sport.

Still, a question remains about whether USADA has the right to mete out the punishment it has. That’s why the UCI demanded the evidence presented Wednesday. The UCI has 21 days to review USADA’s case against Armstrong. If it is satisfied, the penalties will stand. If unconvinced, the UCI could appeal USADA’s actions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The report charges Armstrong with using the banned drug EPO and providing it to Hamilton.

Then, after an effective test to detect EPO was developed, the report says that Armstrong engaged in an elaborate practice of blood transfusions, having blood withdrawn and stored throughout the year, then undergoing secret transfusions in the team doctor’s hotel room periodically throughout the Tour de France. Re-infused blood boosts its overall oxygen-carrying capacity and gives athletes extra energy.

Not all of the report’s evidence consists of first-hand accounts; much is based on inference, such as one teammate seeing Armstrong close the door of a team doctor’s room and emerge with notably more energy 45 minutes later (roughly the time a blood infusion takes).

USADA’s financial evidence of doping is hardly iron-clad, either. The report contains records of several deposits worth more than $1 million that Armstrong made in the Swiss bank account of Michele Ferarri, who in 2004 was convicted in an Italian court for helping athletes dope. But the service rendered in exchange for the payment is an open question.

Armstrong’s professional relationship with Ferrari, which he publicly severed following the Italian’s conviction, led to one of the instances of witness-intimidation cited in the report. According to Italian cyclist Filippo Simeoni, who testified against Ferrari, Armstrong rode up beside him during the 2004 Tour de France and said, “You made a mistake when you testified against Ferrari . . . I have a lot of time and money and I can destroy you.” Armstrong was captured on video making a “zip the lips” gesture.”

The report also cites testimony of former Armstrong teammate Levi Leipheimer, who said that after he had testified to a federal grand jury about Armstrong, the cyclist sent Leipheimer’s wife a text message saying, “run don’t walk,” which she perceived as a threat.

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