Lance Armstrong’s legacy as cancer survivor turned seven-time winner of the Tour de France is in ruins after he was accused of drug-taking on a massive scale, and being the ringleader of the most sophisticated doping conspiracy in sporting history.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency charged him with six offences covering the use of banned substances, the trafficking of drugs, the administration of drugs to team-mates and aiding and abetting a massive cover-up between 1998 and 2005, a period when he dominated the world’s most famous race.
Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s performance director who was key to Bradley Wiggins becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France this year, said was stunned to read the USADA findings. “It is shocking, it’s jaw dropping and it is very unpleasant.”
A total of 26 witnesses including 11 fellow riders from the United States Postal Service team testified to USADA against Armstrong in a doping case the agency described as “more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history”. The dossier has been sent to the International Cycling Union which now has 21 days to challenge its findings and appeal to the World Anti-Doping Agency or comply with the decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles.
In a statement on Wednesday night UCI said it will examine the evidence and “provide a timely response”.
USADA released the findings of a two-year investigation yesterday accusing Armstrong of using a cocktail of banned substances and blood transfusions. They built up a picture of an elaborate doping ring which alleged the involvement of support staff, fellow riders and even his former wife. The doping programme was the brainchild of disgraced Italian doctor, Michele Ferrari, and Armstrong would travel across Europe during and before races to have blood transfusions.
The report also accused Armstrong of administering testosterone to a team-mate, threatening fellow riders with the sack if they did not follow Dr Ferrari’s EPO programme and of surrounding himself with drug runners “so that he could achieve his goal of winning the Tour de France year after year”. The report says there was a “code of silence” in cycling as Armstrong intimidated whistle-blowers and the 200 pages of evidence referenced financial records, email traffic, and laboratory test results which the agency believes proved he was doping for years.
“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,” the agency said. “A program organised by individuals who thought they were above the rules and who still play a major and active role in sport today.”
A spokesman for Armstrong accused USADA of conducting a witch-hunt. “Ignoring the 500-600 tests Lance Armstrong passed, ignoring all exculpatory evidence, and trying to justify the millions of dollars USADA has spent pursuing one, single athlete for years, USADA has continued its government funded witch-hunt of only Mr Armstrong, a retired cyclist, in violation of its own rules and due process.”
Witnesses revealed how Armstrong would receive blood transfusions in the team doctor’s hotel room during races. When police in France tightened up security Armstrong employed a drug smuggler called 'Motoman’ to deliver EPO to rendezvous points on the 1999 Tour de France route.
“Lance Armstrong and his handlers engaged in a massive and long-running scheme to use drugs, cover their tracks, intimidate witnesses, tarnish reputations, lie to hearing panels and the press and do whatever was necessary to conceal the truth,” said the report. Armstrong refused to co-operate with the investigation but in September, after losing a legal suit challenging USADA’s jurisdiction, he decided not to contest their case and was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories.
Armstrong himself remained defiant last night, tweeting that he was "hanging with family".
The report lays bare his relationship with Dr Ferrari and includes records from Swiss banks detailing payments by Armstrong of more than $1 million to the Italian doctor.
Damning testimony was provided by some of the leading cyclists of the 1990s and 2000s. Some had been thrown out of the sport as drug users but others owned up to USADA for the first time about their own drug taking including Canadian Michael Barry who competed in the 2010 Tour de France alongside Bradley Wiggins for Team Sky.
The most personally damaging aspect for Armstrong was the testimony provided by George Hincapie, who was alongside him for his seven tour victories, and also never failed a drug test in his career. In the past Armstrong described him as “true blue, like a brother to me”. Hincapie confessed to doping and how his role as domestique stretched to off the road as well. In 2005 he was told by the team’s director, Johan Bruyneel, to sweep Armstrong’s apartment for any drug material.
Other riders revealed how they witnessed Armstrong use drugs. Jonathan Vaughters testified he saw Armstrong inject himself with EPO at the 1998 Vuelta a España while Floyd Landis corroborated the story that Armstrong failed a dope test at the Tour of Switzerland in 2001.
Landis told the team manager and Armstrong “flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement to keep the positive test hidden”. The report states Pat McQuaid, the current president of UCI, denied the allegation.
The report homes in on each of Armstrong’s tour victories and details his drug use in each race. Tyler Hamilton, whose recently published book included a string of explosive allegations about Armstrong, revealed how he found EPO in Armstrong’s fridge. Armstrong was also accused of using illegal substances when he came out of retirement to compete in the 2009 and 2010 Tours de France, producing blood results with the odds of “occurring naturally less than one in a million”.
On a dark day for cycling, the report revealed 20 of the 21 podium finishers in the Tour de France from 1999-2005 have been directly tied to likely doping and concluded by saying “so ends one of the most sordid chapters in sporting history.”