TO START what was deemed a new and better doping strategy, Lance Armstrong and two of his teammates on the United States Postal Service cycling squad flew on a private jet to Valencia, Spain, in June 2000, to have blood extracted. In a hotel room there, two doctors and the team’s manager stood by to see their plan unfold, watching the blood of their best riders drip into plastic bags.
The next month, during the Tour de France, the cyclists lay on beds with those blood bags affixed to the wall. They shivered as the cool blood re-entered their bodies. The reinfused blood would boost the riders’ oxygen-carrying capacity and improve stamina during the second of Armstrong’s seven Tour wins.
The following day, Armstrong extended his overall lead with a swift ascent of the unforgiving and seemingly unending route up Mont Ventoux.
At a race in Spain that same year, Armstrong told a teammate that he had taken testosterone, a banned substance he called ”oil”. The teammate warned Armstrong that drug-testing officials were at the team hotel, prompting Armstrong to drop out of the race to avoid being caught.
In 2002, Armstrong summoned a teammate to his apartment in Girona, Spain. He told his teammate that if he wanted to continue riding for the team he would have to follow the doping program outlined by Armstrong’s doctor, a known proponent of doping.
The rider said that the conversation confirmed that ”Lance called the shots on the team” and that ”what Lance said went”.
Those accounts were revealed yesterday in hundreds of pages of eyewitness testimony from teammates, email correspondence, financial records and laboratory analyses released by the United States Anti-Doping Agency – the quasi-governmental group charged with policing the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Olympic sports.
During all that time, Armstrong was a hero on two wheels, a cancer survivor who was making his mark as perhaps the most dominant cyclist in history.
But the evidence put forth by the anti-doping agency drew a picture of Armstrong as an infamous cheat, a defiant liar and a bully who pushed others to cheat with him so he could succeed, or be vanquished.
”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.
Armstrong, who retired from cycling last year, has repeatedly denied doping. Yesterday, his spokesman said Armstrong had no comment.
When Armstrong decided in August not to contest the agency’s charges that he doped, administered doping products and encouraged doping on his Tour-winning teams, he agreed to forgo an arbitration hearing at which the evidence against him would have been aired, possibly publicly.
But that evidence, which the anti-doping agency called overwhelming and proof of the most sophisticated sports doping program in history, came out anyway.
Under the World Anti-Doping Code, the anti-doping agency was required to submit its evidence against Armstrong to the International Cycling Union.
The teammates who submitted sworn affidavits – admitting their own doping and detailing Armstrong’s involvement in it – included some of the best cyclists of Armstrong’s generation: Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie, who claims he was clean by the time he cycled with Cadel Evans in 2011.
Their accounts painted an eerie and complete picture of the doping on Armstrong’s teams, squads that dominated the sport for nearly a decade.
”His goal led him to depend on EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions but also, more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his teammates would likewise use drugs to support his goals if not their own,” the agency said in its 202-page report.
Drug use was casual among the top riders, and some shared EPO – the banned blood booster erythropoietin – as if borrowing cups of sugar from a neighbour. In 2005, Hincapie on two occasions asked Armstrong, ”Any EPO I could borrow?” and Armstrong obliged without question. In 2003, Armstrong showed up at Hincapie’s apartment in Spain and had his blood drawn for a future banned blood transfusion, Hincapie said, adding that he was aware that Armstrong used blood transfusions from 2001 to 2005.
Kristin Armstrong, Armstrong’s former wife, handed out cortisone tablets wrapped tightly in foil to the team at the 1998 world championships.
Riders were given water bottles containing EPO as if they were boxed lunches. Jonathan Vaughters said the bottles were carefully labelled for them: ”Jonathan – 5×2” meant five vials of 2000 international units each of EPO were tucked inside.
Once when Vaughters was in Armstrong’s room borrowing his laptop, Armstrong injected himself with EPO and said, now ”that you are doing EPO too, you can’t go write a book about it”.
Landis was asked to babysit the blood inside the refrigerator of Armstrong’s apartment, just to make sure the electricity did not go out and the blood did not spoil.
David Zabriskie, a five-time national time-trial champion, recalled serenading Johan Bruyneel, the long-time team manager, with a song about EPO, to the tune of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.
At the same time the drug use was nonchalant, it was also carefully orchestrated by Armstrong, team management and team staff, the anti-doping agency said. ”Mr Armstrong did not act alone,” the agency said in its report. ”He acted with the help of a small army of enablers, including doping doctors, drug smugglers, and others within and outside the sport and on his team.”
Armstrong relied on the Italian doctor Michele Ferrari for training and doping plans, several riders said. Armstrong continued to use Ferrari even after he publicly claimed in 2004 – and testified under oath in an insurance claims case – that he had severed all business ties with Ferrari.
The anti-doping agency noted that Armstrong had sent payments of more than $US1 million to Ferrari from 1996 through 2006, based on financial documents discovered in an Italian doping investigation.
As an example of the extreme care the team would take to avoid positive tests, the doctor suggested that the riders inject EPO directly into their veins instead of under their skin, which would lessen the possibility that the drug would be picked up by tests. He pushed the use of hypoxic chambers, which he said also reduced the effectiveness of the EPO test.
The team’s doctors came up with fake maladies so that riders could receive an exemption to use drugs like cortisone, several riders said. When Armstrong tested positive for cortisone during the 1999 Tour, Armstrong produced a backdated prescription for it, for saddle sores. Hamilton said he knew that was a lie.
Riders said they felt that they needed to dope to stay at the top of the sport and stay on the team. Armstrong was instrumental in the hiring and firing of team personnel and pressured riders to stay on a doping program, the anti-doping agency said.
The evidence made it clear, the agency said, that Armstrong’s drug use was extensive, and that he also was the lynchpin holding the team’s doping program together. It said that is why it barred him from Olympic sports for life and stripped him of his record seven Tour victories.
”It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced,” the anti-doping agency said. ”He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and reinforced it.”
NEW YORK TIMES
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