The USADA released a mountain of evidence against Lance Armstrong today, and the allegations look pretty ugly.
But one question remains: If he was doping for the better part of a decade, how did he manage to never test positive?
This has been Lance’s go-to defence since allegations against him began to surface in the mid-00s, and it’s pretty convincing.
Today, the USADA explained exactly how Lance managed to avoid a positive test for all those years.
First of all, the USADA challenges the assumption that Lance never tested positive. In 1999, he allegedly tested positive for cortisone on the first day of the Tour de France. But the report says he got out of it:
“Emma O’Reilly was in the room giving Armstrong a massage when Armstrong and team officials fabricated a story to cover the positive test. Armstrong and the team officials agreed to have Dr. del Moral backdate a prescription for cortisone cream for Armstrong which they would claim had been prescribed in advance of the Tour to treat a saddle sore.”
Then in 2001, fellow riders Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis say Armstrong told them he tested positive for EPO (a performance-enhancing drug) at a race in Switzerland. But Landis alleges that Armstrong told him he later “made a financial agreement to keep the test hidden.”
It sounds dubious and conspiratorial, but it’s in there.
So the notion that Armstrong never tested positive for anything is wrong, at least according to the USADA.
But still, how did he never have an unquestionably positive test?
The USADA breaks it down into four parts, but in short: He was smart. He took drugs they couldn’t test for. And when things got hairy, he dodged the testers.
Here’s a full explanation of those parts:
1. Avoiding the testers
It sounds absurd, but the USADA says it happened.
“The riders were advised to not answer the door if a tester came after they had used EPO,” the report says.
In addition, in 2000 fellow rider George Hincapie testified that Armstrong dropped out of a race in Spain because there would be drug testing.
Other avoidance measures included having a look-out team to spot approaching testers, and retiring to remote locations like Puigcerdà, Spain to make it almost impossible for testers to come out and test you.
Lastly, according to the report, “the team staff was good at being able to predict when riders would be tested and seemed to have inside information about the testing.”
2. Using undetectable drugs
This gets at a larger issue: it’s simply hard to test people for performance-enhancing drugs.
From 1998-2005, they couldn’t test for blood doping or HGH. In addition, EPO “has a very narrow testing window” and wasn’t even testable until 2000. Testosterone is notoriously hard to detect as well.
These are all drugs Armstrong allegedly used.
Most of the cyclists who have been taken down by doping scandals haven’t had glaring positive tests, they’ve been hunted down in meticulous investigations like this.
3. Having a really good doctor who knew how to beat the tests
Armstrong had a long relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari, who allegedly knew what he was doing when it came to doping. Here’s an example of how complicated things got in the USADA report:
“Dr. Ferrari recognised that the EPO testing method works through separating and measuring the quantity (known as “intensity”) of various types of EPO and comparing the ratio of EPO bands in what is known as the “basic” region (where the bands tend to be caused by the administration of synthetic EPO) to bands in the acidic region (where the bands are naturally produced). However, because the test operates by measuring a ratio, the test can be fooled to a degree by increasing the amount of EPO in the acidic region (i.e., those produced naturally),which can be accomplished by stimulating natural production of EPO either through going to altitude or by sleeping in an altitude tent (also known as a “hypoxic chamber”). Dr. Ferrari advised the use of hypoxic chambers to reduce the effectiveness of the EPO test in detecting the use of synthetic EPO. Regular training at altitude (such as at St. Moritz, Tenerife or Aspen) would achieve a similar result.”
The report says the team injected its riders with saline in order to trick the test. An example:
One of the bolder examples of the use of saline to fool the testers was at the 1998 World Championships when Armstrong’s doctor literally smuggled past a UCI official a liter of saline concealed under his rain coat and administered it to Armstrong to lower his hematocrit right before a blood check.
So even though the “he never tested positive” excuse looks good on paper, the USADA has a pretty convincing answer for why that doesn’t matter.
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