CYCLING

Report: Lance Armstrong was key figure in doping program

 

Testimony to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency against Lance Armstrong includes that of 11 of his cycling teammates.

lrobertson@MiamiHerald.com

Lance Armstrong was supplier, enforcer and kingpin of a sophisticated doping program that propelled him to seven straight Tour de France titles, his most loyal teammates said in testimony about cycling's drug culture to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Armstrong's spectacular rides through the Alps and sunflower fields of France and the evolution of his U.S. Postal Service team from "Bad News Bears to New York Yankees," as he put it, were "fueled from start to finish by doping," USADA found in its investigation.

Armstrong not only used the red blood cell booster EPO, human growth hormone, testosterone and blood transfusions during training and racing, but threatened teammates with termination if they didn't do the same.

The 202-page USADA v. Lance Armstrong report released Wednesday included details from 26 people, including 11 former teammates. They describe flushing drugs down an RV toilet in fear of a police raid, babysitting refrigerated blood while Armstrong was out of town, hanging blood bags from picture hooks in village hotels, evading testers, injecting EPO, reinfusing in the team bus on the side of a mountain road while the driver pretended to have engine problems, and squirting into their mouths a steroid mixture called "the oil."

Armstrong, who denied doping allegations throughout his career, has called the investigation a "witch hunt" depriving him of constitutional rights and sued USADA to get the case dismissed. He didn't comment Wednesday but has repeatedly said that he has never tested positive for banned performance-enhancing substances in hundreds of tests.

When he declined to challenge USADA's findings in arbitration hearings, he was stripped of his titles and banned from any sanctioned competitions. A triathlon in Maryland dropped its sanctioning last weekend so that Armstrong could compete. Cycling's international federation will now examine USADA's report before it goes to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Armstrong's lawyer Timothy J. Herman of Austin, Texas, said USADA was carrying out a vendetta, rehashing old allegations and coercing testimony from "serial perjurers."

But George "Big George" Hincapie, Armstrong's self-sacrificing chaperone through their 2,000-mile Tours de France, admitted he cheated until 2006, saw Armstrong cheat for years and "felt obligated to tell the truth," he said in an apologetic statement. "Thankfully, the use of performance-enhancing drugs is no longer embedded in the culture of our sport and younger riders are not faced with the same choice we had."

Hincapie, who never tested positive during his 19-year career, accepted a penalty that includes forfeiture of drug-aided results.

USADA Chief Executive Travis Tygart credited "courageous riders" such as Frankie Andreu, Dave Zabriskie, Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde for their decision to "break the Code of Silence -- the omerta"-- and chastised Armstrong for choosing not to come clean and "be part of the solution" for his sport's problems. Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title for doping, gave the investigation momentum when he confessed, then turned whistle-blower in 2010.

Armstrong, 41, survived life-threatening testicular cancer to become controversial star of the drug-soaked sport and an inspiration to cancer patients with his tenacious rides in the grueling Tour, yellow "Livestrong" bracelets and fund-raising foundation.

But the whispers that always dogged him have been amplified and corroborated by key associates in the scathing report that encompasses 1,000 pages of testimony, financial documents, lab records, emails and photos.

USADA said Armstrong's success was achieved "through a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in pro sports history...in a fraudulent course of conduct that extended over a decade." The report covers the period from 1998 through 2010, including Armstrong's record streak from 1999-2005 and his comeback in 2009-2010.

Most of those years he was treated by the Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, nicknamed "Dr. Blood" by pro cyclists who knew of his doping methods or paid for them. Ferrari was convicted of sporting fraud in Italy in 2004. Armstrong made at least $1 million in payments to Ferrari, according to Ferrari's Health and Performance company records.

The report cited two other doctors from Spain who administered drugs and transfusions to Armstrong and team members. One of them once hid a bag of saline solution under his coat while a drug tester was setting up to screen Armstrong. The doctor slipped into Armstrong's hotel room and transfused the masking solution in time to foil the test.

Armstrong's ex-wife Kristin wrapped cortisone tablets in tin foil for the team at the 1998 world championships, and a rider quipped that "Lance's wife is rolling joints," recalled then-teammate Jonathan Vaughters, now an advocate of drug-free cycling.

Teammates said they first became aware of Armstrong's EPO use because he often carried a thermos in midsummer -- a telltale sign that he was using it to keep the drug cool and prevent it from spoiling.

Doctors, the team trainer, a soigneur (or masseuse) -- even a handyman known as "Motoman" because of his motorcyling skills on winding Tour roads -- facilitated delivery of drugs. Armstrong referred to one delivery in a paper bag as "liquid gold," Andreu said. Teammates also provided drugs to each other; Armstrong let Tyler Hamilton and Hincapie borrow vials of EPO, and they would visit each others' apartments to have blood extractions.

During the 1999 Tour, when Armstrong tested positive for a corticosteroid, Armstrong's masseuse Emma O'Reilly listened while Armstrong, the team doctor and team director Johan Bruyneel fabricated a coverup story. The doctor backdated a prescription for cortisone cream for a saddle sore that never existed. "Now, Emma, you know enough to bring me down," she recalled Armstrong saying. O'Reilly said she had previously covered a needle bruise on Armstrong's arm with makeup.

Armstrong was also known to bully and intimidate his detractors with threats of lawsuits. He was quoted as vowing to ruin Greg LeMond's Trek bike line with one phone call to the company. He accosted Tyler Hamilton at a Colorado restaurant and said he'd make his life "a living hell." He rode next to Filippo Simeoni and gave an irate "zip the lips" sign.

Some of Armstrong's most famous rides appear to have been less than heroic. During the 2000 Tour, when he went from six minutes behind to four minutes ahead in an explosive 8.5-mile uphill stretch, he was using a blood product called Actovegin, the report said, and when French authorities found packaging for it in the team's trash, Armstrong said he had no idea what it was. Two days before dueling Marco Pantani on the steep Mt. Ventoux stage, he, Hamilton and Kevin Livingston received transfusions as they "lay on the bed and shivered while the chilly blood re-entered our bodies," Hamilton said.

In 1999, EPO was injected every third or fourth day -- into a vein, not under the skin, was the way Ferrari taught them -- Hamilton said, and they'd discard syringes in empty Coke cans. On Stage 9, Armstrong climbed past riders with ease and dominated the next day on the Alpe d'Huez ascent.

According to the report, retroactive testing of Armstrong's blood from the 1999 race revealed EPO in six samples. Hamilton and Landis said Armstrong admitted he tested positive during the 2001 Tour of Switzerland but made the result go away, implying he had bribed the international cycling union.

After Armstrong won his fourth Tour, he pressured Vande Velde to step up his doping and follow Ferrari's plan. Andreu said he was also pressured by Armstrong. Zabriskie agonized over doping but Bruyneel reassured him that everyone was doing it. Zabriskie later sang to Bruyneel his variation on the Jimi Hendrix "Purple Haze" classic: "EPO, all in my veins, lately things just don't seem the same...'scuse me while I pass this guy."

Once tests for EPO improved and random testing was instituted, the team relied more on blood doping, microdoses of EPO and testosterone patches. Riders were often tipped to when testers were coming. During a race in Spain, Hincapie warned Armstrong that testers were waiting at the team hotel, so Armstrong dropped out of the race.

USADA said Armstrong's blood values during his comeback Tours in 2009 and 2010 were consistent with blood doping and he was still communicating with Ferrari through emails with Ferrari's son.

Ferrari and Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral received lifetime bans from USADA. Bruyneel, Dr. Pedro Celaya and trainer Jose "Pepe" Marti are taking their cases to arbitration.

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