Update on Lance Armstrong Doping Case

The United States Antidoping Authority (USADA) released a 202-page report this Wednesday that includes testimonies from 11 former teammates of Lance Armstrong. The report is a blistering indictment of Armstrong and states that he was at the center of “a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history.” This report is the result of an extensive investigation that took years of gum-shoe-type work and examined the methods behind the success of one professional cycling’s greatest teams.

USADA issued this report in response to requests from the Swiss-based Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) that they explain their decision to ban Mr. Armstrong from professional cycling in August. UCI is professional cycling’s international governing body, and they simply wanted an explanation of the charges USADA brought against Armstrong.

The USADA report cited testimony from former teammates of Mr. Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, including George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie. Each one of these riders have admitted taking banned substances.

The report includes very detailed events recounted by Armstrong’s former teammates. For example, Jonathan Vaughters, who is a very respected individual in American cycling and was a teammate of Mr. Armstrong, recounted an event that occurred one evening in Mr. Armstrong’s hotel room in Spain during the 1998 season. According to Vaughters, he watched while Lance Armstrong injected himself with a syringe used for EPO (erythropoietin) injections. After injecting himself, Armstrong said to Vaughters, “Now that you are doing EPO too, you can’t go write a book about it.” After this, Armstrong was open with Vaughters about his EPO use.

EPO is a hormone that is made by the kidney in response to low oxygen content in the blood. EPO boosts the production of red blood cells. Athletes use EPO to augment the number of red-blood cells in circulation, which gives them a competitive advantage in aerobic sports. EPO is banned in cycling and most other sports.

Vaughters was not the only Armstrong teammate to detail doping by Armstrong, George Hincapie, Armstrong’s close friend and teammate during all of his Tour de France wins, issued a statement on Wednesday in which he broke his silence and confessed to doping while competing professionally. He also acknowledged that he had provided testimony to investigators.

Another former Armstrong teammate, Levi Leipheimer, admitted to doping in a letter to The Wall Street Journal. Leipheimer also said that a doping culture was so ingrained in cycling during his time as a professional athlete that he believed cycling to be “a sport where doping was so accepted that riders from different teams—who were competitors on the road—coordinated their doping to keep up with other riders doing the same thing.”

The USADA report presented evidence that Armstrong and his associates had organized a large, organized network for doping, Armstrong “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. However, the evidence is also clear that Mr. Armstrong had ultimate control over not only his own personal drug use, which was extensive, but also over the doping culture of his team.”

Even though he could not be reached for comment, Armstrong continues to steadfastly deny that he ever doped during his career. Armstrong’s lawyer, Tim Herman leveled some fairly heavy criticism at the USADA report: “USADA has continued its government-funded witch hunt of only Mr. Armstrong, a retired cyclist, in violation of its own rules and due process.”

Herman also pointed our that Armstrong has passed 500 to 600 drug tests over the course of his career. However, the USADA report, however, also detailed the different tactics used by the riders to beat the French police and drug testers. Riders would bury drugs in the woods to hide them from police. They would also dump them off a ferry, and even text one another to warn of surprise visits from drug testers. Other strategies included injecting EPO into their veins instead of under their skin. This way the drug would leave their bodies faster, thus decreasing the chance of a positive test for EPO. Other EPO users diluted their blood with saline injections to mask the effects of EPO when drug testers drew blood to test their hematocrits (red blood cell count).

The team director, Johan BruyneeI told riders that if a drug tester arrived at the hotel room after they had just taken some EPO, that they should not open the door. USADA has accused Bruyneel of trafficking and administering prohibited substances to cyclists, and working actively to conceal rule violations.

Of particular interest in this USADA report is evidence that the relationship between Mr. Armstrong and Michele Ferrari did not end when Armstrong said it did. Dr. Ferrari is an Italian doctor who has been associated with some of cycling’s most notorious doping cases. Ferrari was formally accused by USADA in June of engaging in an a doping conspiracy in which he doped the US Postal team so that they would win the Tour de France.

Armstrong had made public statements in October 2004 that he had formally severed his relationship with Ferrari. He had acknowledged that Ferrari had been his trainer up until that time. However, the USADA report shows that bank statements demonstrate that Armstrong was still making payments to Ferrari after he had announced that he was no longer dealing with Ferrari. Bank records document payments from Armstrong to Dr. Ferrari’s Swiss company, starting in 1996 and most recently in 2006 that exceed $1 million.

In an affidavit from another former Armstrong teammate, Christian Vande Velde, Armstrong criticized him because he did not follow Dr. Ferrari’s program. Mr. Vande Velde said the conversation ensured him that the only way to escape Armstrong’s doghouse was to get fully on board the doping program.

Much of this report either corroborates earlier suspicions about Armstrong or introduces new information that suggests that the doping situation on Armstrong’s teams were far worse than thought before, Armstrong is painted as a bit of a bully who would intimidate cyclists into doping, otherwise they would be cut from the team. The picture is not a pretty one, and it seems more than likely that Armstrong doped and that professional cycling is fraught with a doping culture that resists being cleaned up.