FILE - In this July 24, 2005 file photo, Lance Armstrong gestures prior to the start of the 21st and final stage of the Tour de france cycling race, between Corbeil-Essonnes, south of Paris, and the French capital. Armstrong faces a Friday, June 22, 2012 deadline to file a formal response to the latest allegations that he was doping during his seven consecutive Tour de France victories. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
Cycling superstar Lance Armstrong earned his unprecedented seven victories in the Tour de France with the aid of a “sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program” on his racing team, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Thursday
Eleven former cyclists from the U.S. Postal Service team have told investigators that for years, Armstrong used an array of performance-enhancing drugs, the agency’s chief executive, Travis Tygart, said in a statement.
Riders on Armstrong’s team were pressured to take banned drugs and participate in a cover-up of doping on the team, Tygart said.
“The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming and is in excess of 1,000 pages, and includes sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the US Postal Service Team,” the release says. It adds that a full evidence dossier will be made public later today.
“The evidence also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding,” the release says.
In a statement today, Armstrong lawyer Tim Herman denounced the anti-doping agency's assertions as a "one-sided hatchet job." He dismissed the witnesses as "axe-grinders (and) serial perjurers," and said their stories had been coerced. Armstrong has maintained his innocence and says he is the victim of a “vendetta” by anti-doping zealots.
Tygart denied that the cyclists were coerced, saying Armstrong’s former teammates came forward in spite of, rather than because of, the risk of punishment.
Witnesses included 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, who in 2010 admitted to a career of doping that began under the tutelage of Armstrong, and 2004 Olympic cycling gold medalist Tyler Hamilton, whose recent book, “The Secret Race,” suggested that for the Armstrong-led postal service team, doping methods such as EPO injections and blood transfusions were routine.
For years after they were suspended for drug use, both Landis and Hamilton had denied using banned drugs and insisted that Armstrong never took drugs either. Both Landis and Hamilton have since been stripped of their titles.
Several other witnesses are employed by top professional Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda, whose director, Jonathan Vaughters, is another former Armstrong teammate.
Vaughters has said he explicitly instructed team members to speak honestly to anti-doping investigators. The anti-doping agency’s witness list includes Vaughters, as well as Garmin team members Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie and Tom Danielson.
Other witnesses include Santa Rosa’s Levi Leipheimer, who rides for the Omega Pharma – Quick-Step team; Canadian cyclist Michael Barry; and ex-racers Stephen Swart, George Hincapie and Frankie Andreu.
In 2006, Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified in arbitration proceedings that they heard Armstrong admit to using performance-enhancing drugs while undergoing cancer treatments.
“Lance could not have done it on his own,” Betsy Andreu told California Watch. “This is a story that has to be told: the cover-up and how he got away with it.”
Armstrong retired from cycling in 2011. The anti-doping agency called for a lifetime ban in August, after Armstrong announced he would not contest doping charges filed against him.
The anti-doping agency began its probe of Armstrong in 2010, after former cycling champion Landis confessed to doping and implicated Armstrong. The agency said it would provide complete evidence files today tothe International Cycling Union, which must sign off on Armstrong’s ban.
Earlier this year, the agency issued a charging letter painting a bleak portrait of Armstrong, whose fame as an international sports star was enhanced by his courageous battle against testicular cancer and his efforts to raise money to combat the disease.
Since they confessed to doping, Hamilton and Landis have publicly described an out-of-control drug culture on the USPS cycling team, where Armstrong won much of his glory. The team, disbanded in 2005, was sponsored by the post office and owned by Tailwind Sports, a San Francisco company established by financier Thomas Weisel, founder of the Montgomery Securities investment firm.
The anti-doping agency said team manager Johan Bruyneel, trainer Jose “Pepe” Marti and three team doctors – including Dr. Michele Ferrari, an Italian sports physician repeatedly implicated in drug scandals – supervised doping on the team.
The agency said thatbefore races, USPS cyclists were injected with the powerful blood-doping medicine erythropoietin, or EPO, to boost their endurance. Armstrong and other team cyclists were injected with growth hormone and took steroids via transdermal patches and in a liquid form, mixed with olive oil.
Cyclists also were given endurance-boosting blood transfusions and received infusions of plasma and saline to mask their doping, the agency said in earlier charging documents.
First doping claims in 1999
Armstrong first was linked to doping after the 1999 Tour de France, when the French daily Le Monde unearthed blood tests that were positive for a steroid. But a team doctor’s note said Armstrong had used a prescribed cream for saddle sores, and he wasn’t sanctioned.
For the rest of Armstrong’s career, reports appeared regularly – in newspaper and broadcast exposés, tell-all books and public statements from fellow cyclists – claiming he used drugs.
Armstrong insisted he was drug-free, noting he had undergone hundreds of drug tests and never failed one. As he said in 2000, when a French television report sought to tie him to EPO: “I’ve never tested positive; I’ve never been caught with anything.”
He sharply denounced his critics – Landis was a “perjurer and a liar,” he said at one point – and sometimes took them to court.
In 2004, when The Sunday Times of London reported on a French book, “L.A. Confidentiel,” which claimed Armstrong used injectable drugs, the cyclist sued the newspaper for libel, settling for an undisclosed amount.
“I’m convinced everybody will know then that I was clean,” he told an interviewer.
He has been particularly aggressive in his comments about the anti-doping agency, calling it a “kangaroo court” that is seeking to frame him with false testimony. He complains he was targeted by the agency because he criticized it for allegedly railroading other accused athletes.
Armstrong’s criticism led U.S. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich.,and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to introduce a bill last month to guarantee due-process rights to athletes facing anti-doping agency discipline.
The agency’s probe began in 2010 when an agency official met with an associate of Landis’ to discuss suspected drug use on the USPS team, court records show.
Meanwhile, Food and Drug Administration agent Jeff Novitzky, who led the probe that ensnared San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds in the BALCO steroid scandal, was investigating suspected doping on a Los Angeles-based pro cycling team, the New York Daily News reported.
The federal investigation turned to Armstrong after Landis sent emails to cycling regulators detailing his own doping history and implicating Armstrong.
Federal law enforcement officials spent 20 months following up on Landis’ leads before dropping the case without explanation in February.
But anti-doping agency chief Tygart continued his probe. In the end, the agency recommended a lifetime ban for Armstrong and said he should lose his seven Tour de France titles.
Asked in an interview last week about the impending release of the agency’s evidence, Armstrong told the triathlon magazine Lava: “It’s their drama. Not mine.”
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This story was produced by California Watch, a part of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more at www.californiawatch.org.