Former Lance Armstrong Teammate Disputes Hamilton’s Claims

Viatcheslav Ekimov and Lance Armstrong
Ekimov with Armstrong in 2005

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ROME (AP) — Viatcheslav Ekimov stands to receive his third Olympic gold medal in the wake of Tyler Hamilton’s doping admission. The Russian is in no mood to celebrate, though.A former teammate of Hamilton’s with the U.S. Postal squad, Ekimov was extremely irritated by Hamilton’s detailed allegations on “60 Minutes” that Lance Armstrong and other team leaders encouraged, promoted and took part in a doping program on the way to winning the Tour de France a record seven times.

“The main point is just the total disappointment of people that you used to work with and then all of a sudden you see their real faces,” Ekimov told The Associated Press on Monday. “They’re liars.”

Ekimov was speaking by phone from the RadioShack team hotel at the Giro d’Italia, where he is directing the squad.

Ekimov joined the Postal team in 1997 and helped Armstrong to five of his Tour victories. He was with the Postal squad in 1997 and 1998, then returned in 2000 and remained with the team when it became Discovery Channel in 2005. He retired from cycling at the end of the 2006 season and joined team director Johan Bruyneel on the management side.

Hamilton turned over his gold medal in the time trial from the 2004 Athens Games to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last week, putting Ekimov in line for an upgrade from silver.

“If the medal comes it’s always welcome,” Ekimov said. “The logical thing is for the IOC to redirect it to the second guy.”

Hamilton’s performance in Athens had always been clouded by suspicions of blood doping, but problems at a laboratory meant his backup ‘B’ sample could not be tested.

“I was just hoping that the guy will be accepted as a (doper) and he will be stripped of his medal, but it never happened,” Ekimov said. “Since then the hope was still in my head but it was dying after seven years. But nothing was happening and now it’s all turned around again.”

Ekimov won his first gold in track team pursuit at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when the Soviet Union edged East Germany for gold. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he won the road time trial ahead of silver medalist Jan Ullrich and Armstrong, who took bronze.

Armstrong has long denied doping and has never tested positive. The Texan has said that Hamilton, who was banned twice for doping despite his long insistence that he never cheated, has altered his story now because he’s in search of a book deal — a suggestion Ekimov agrees with.

“Behind his story is something. First of all it’s untrue. And behind his story is some money or some stimulation,” Ekimov said. “Because why did this guy just crack now? Why didn’t he do it in 2005? … I call these guys liars. First they lie about the innocence, now they lie about something else.

“I think it’s just money. It seems to me like somebody really wants to kill Lance and put him down. There’s all this interest to find people who will say something.”

Ekimov completed the Tour de France 15 times and said he never saw Armstrong do any of the things Hamilton described.

“Maybe it’s his sick sense of humour,” the Russian said. “Because I’ve been on the same team as him.”

However, Ekimov had little contact with Hamilton at U.S. Postal.

“He was there when I was there for maybe two years but we raced in few races together, because he was a like a Grand Tour guy and a stage-race guy and I was doing all the classics,” Ekimov said. “I was never there with him. Maybe twice at the Tour de France, but that was it.”

Ekimov also rejected Hamilton’s claims that the UCI helped cover up a positive drug test by Armstrong at the 2001 Tour de Suisse.

“I never heard that. I just read about it in newspapers,” he said. “Being in the team, I never heard that.”

Ekimov spoke to the AP after Italian police apparently searched the RadioShack team hotel, according to Giro d’Italia director Angelo Zomegnan said. “By the time I came I (found) everyone healthy and without problems, so I guess nothing happened,” Ekimov said. “I cannot comment on things that I didn’t see.”

It was unclear if the search was related to the ongoing investigation into Michele Ferrari, a banned Italian physician who was once Armstrong’s training adviser.

Related: Lance Armstrong’s Accuser Says He’s Attacking The Messenger Because “He Can’t Argue The Truth”