A devastating report into years of drug taking at Lance Armstrong’s United States Postal Service team described the squad as running “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”. The 1,000-page report from the US Anti-Doping Agency sets out its case against Armstrong with damning clarity, depicting the former cycling hero, US national icon and cancer-campaigning champion as a bully who coerced his team-mates into using drugs and a cheat who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for doping programmes.”His goal [of winning the Tour de France] led him to depend on EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions but also, more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his team-mates would likewise use drugs to support his goals if not their own,” concluded the report. “It was not enough that his team-mates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping programme outlined for them or be replaced.”
Armstrong fought back, as he always does, with his lawyers attacking the report as “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”. A five-page letter from his lawyers, Timothy J Herman of Austin, Texas, also described Usada’s case as “a taxpayer-funded witchhunt”.
The most damaging testimony came from Armstrong’s close friend and long-time team-mate George Hincapie, who is widely viewed as having no axe to grind. Hincapie states: “At a race in Spain in 2000 Lance indicated to me he had taken testosterone. Lance told me that he was feeling good and recovered, that he had just taken some ‘oil’. When I heard that drug testing officials were at the hotel, I texted Lance to warn him to avoid the place …”
He adds that in 2003 Armstrong used his apartment to have a blood transfusion. “In 2003 Lance Armstrong contacted me about needing to do something private at my apartment in Girona because he had guests at his apartment. I agreed and Lance came to my apartment with Dr Del Moral. Lance and Dr Del Moral went into my bedroom and Dr Del Moral was carrying what I thought was a blood bag. He asked to borrow a coat hanger and Lance and Dr Del Moral closed the door behind them. They were in the room about 45 minutes to an hour which is about the time it generally takes to re-infuse a bag of blood.”
As well as the testimony of Tyler Hamilton – whose revelatory book has just been named on the shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year – and Floyd Landis, both of whom testified after their personal fights against doping positives proved fruitless, the report lists nine witnesses who have no blot on their escutcheons: Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie. Of these, only Vande Velde, Danielson, Zabriskie and Leipheimer are still racing – Hincapie and Barry retired a few weeks ago – and they will face nominal six-month bans which will enable them to race again next season.
The Canadian Barry and Vaughters have both been proponents of anti-doping since leaving Armstrong’s service; Vaughters was the founder of the Garmin-Slipstream squad which has been at the forefront of anti-doping since its inception in 2007, while Barry, who has combined cycling and writing up to his retirement a few weeks ago, has spoken out against the practice in his published work.
Vande Velde and Barry describe being put in a position where they were left with no option but to dope. “I was in the doghouse and … the only way forward with Armstrong’s team was to get fully on Dr Ferrari’s doping program,” said Vande Velde, referring to Armstrong’s trainer Michele Ferrari. Barry said: “After being encouraged by the team, pressured to perform and pushed to my physical limits, I crossed a line I promised myself and others I would not: I doped.”
Zabriskie’s evidence is similar, and is the more harrowing because he had come to cycling to avoid drugs, after his father’s life had been shortened by addiction. “He had embraced cycling to escape a life seared by drugs and now he felt that he could not say no and stay in his mentor’s good graces,” states the report. “When he went back to his room that night he cried.”
The report also claims to have evidence that Armstrong paid over a million dollars to Ferrari – whom he apparently nicknamed “Schumi” after the German Formula One driver: “The evidence in this case also includes banking and accounting records from a Swiss company controlled by Dr Ferrari reflecting more than one million dollars in payments by Mr Armstrong, extensive email communications between Dr Ferrari and his son and Mr Armstrong during a time period in which Mr Armstrong claimed to not have a professional relationship with Dr Ferrari and a vast amount of additional data, including laboratory test results and expert analysis of Mr Armstrong’s blood test results.”
The report quotes email correspondence from Stefano Ferrari to Armstrong in which Ferrari junior appears to be passing on training advice from “Schumi,” in 2009, after Armstrong had returned to cycling and when he had stated publicly that they were no longer working together.
The initial paragraphs of the report’s “Reasoned decision” include an utterly damning passage about Armstrong’s era: “20 of the 20-one podium finishers in the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005 have been directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations or exceeding the UCI hematocrit threshold. Of the 40-five (45) podium finishes during the time period between 1996 and 2010, 30-six (36) were by riders similarly tainted by doping.”
Usada’s chief executive, Travis Tygart, described what went on at US Postal as a “systemic, sustained and highly professionalised team-run doping conspiracy,” adding: “The USPS Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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