It's Definitely Not About The Bike: Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton And The Fresh Doping Claims

Despite his claims to be 'the most tested athlete ever' the net is closing on Lance Armstrong as an ex-teammate blows the whistle on the use of EPO. This fascinating article will make uncomfortable reading for the seven-time winner and his fans...
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Despite his claims to be 'the most tested athlete ever' the net is closing on Lance Armstrong as an ex-teammate blows the whistle on the use of EPO. This fascinating article will make uncomfortable reading for the seven-time winner and his fans...

Another bombshell hit the world of professional bike racing yesterday when another former teammate of Lance Armstrong posted an open letter finally admitting what we already knew. After years of denial and a large six-figure sum spent on his defence Tyler Hamilton finally admitted that he had taken performance enhancing drugs during his racing career.

“ Last summer, I received a subpoena to testify before a grand jury. Until that moment I walked into the courtroom, I hadn't told a soul. My testimony went on for six hours. For me, it was like the Hoover dam breaking. I opened up; I told the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. “

A couple of things have prompted this. Firstly the USA’s highly respected hard news programme ’60 Minutes’ airs this Sunday evening with a programme dedicated to the accusations and federal investigation swirling around Armstrong and Hamilton features very heavily in it. Part of his interview has already been broadcast as a trailer and in that segment he states categorically that not only did have knowledge of Armstrong doping during his career and his extraordinarily (in all senses of the word) run of Tour De France wins but he had actually seen him injecting himself with the banned blood booster EPO.

"I saw [EPO] in his refrigerator...I saw him inject it more than one time like we all did, like I did many, many times.”

This is highly significant because he is the first person to stand up publically and corroborate what another ex-team mate, and whistleblower, Floyd Landis said about Armstrong this time last year. Hamilton also corroborates Landis’s claim that Armstrong tested positive in the Tour de Suisse in 2001. According to Landis, Armstrong covered this up by bribing the sports governing body, the UCI.

Despite Armstrong’s constant denials, hiring of expensive lawyers and PR’s (including the so-called ‘master of disaster’ Mark Fabiani who represented Bill Clinton around the time of the ‘Whitewater’ scandal) the net appears to be closing in. The investigation, spearheaded by Jeff Novitsky from the FDA, also involves the IRS, Interpol and the Department of Justice and is gathering steam. And the best that Fabiani can come up with is the oft repeated lies of ‘never failed a drug test’ and ‘most tested athlete in the world’. Well listen chummy, Marion Jones never failed a drug test. Barry Bonds never failed a drug test but they have both been proven to havecheated.

In fact Armstrong has failed drug tests, once whilst racing in the Tour de France in 1999 (the year of his first win) and also when his 1999 samples were retested after a test for EPO had been devised and the scientists wanted to see if it worked. It did

In fact Armstrong has failed drug tests, once whilst racing in the Tour de France in 1999 (the year of his first win) and also when his 1999 samples were retested after a test for EPO had been devised and the scientists wanted to see if it worked. It did. Not enough (legally) to strip him of his win but enough to remove all doubt in most peoples eyes. And again with the disputed Tour de Suisse cover up. As for the ‘most tested athlete in the world’ bullshit an even cursory glance at USADA’s website reveals that he has not been even the most tested cyclist in America. Let alone anywhere else.

Meanwhile the tool has found the perfect tool. He loves twitter. Can’t get enough of it. If I was his PR I’d tell him to shut the fuck up. Even when the news broke yesterday he couldn’t help himself tweeting “ Never failed a test. I rest my case. “ Well with a bit of luck your ‘case’ will be checked in at the door of whatever prison they decide to send you.

He even has a twitter alter ego, the excruciatingly named Juan Peloto (or ‘one ball’ in Spanish referring to the fact that like Hitler he is missing one), and had the actual gall to taunt Novitsky in mangled Spanish about whether he was enjoying the four star hotels and business class flights as he went about his investigation both in the States and in Europe. Finishing with ‘What more do you need?’ That’s a question for the Grand Jury mate, not you.

Talking of a Grand Jury, that’s what finally flushed Hamilton out. He was served a subpoena. When that happens you take the oath and you tell the truth. If you don’t then that is perjury. And that results in jail. Already there is talk that he is only on ’60 Minutes’ in an attempt to get a book deal. Rubbish. On the clip he looks absolutely terrified. He’s not there because he wants to be.

Well listen chummy, Marion Jones never failed a drug test. Barry Bonds never failed a drug test but they have both been proven to have cheated.

Another thing that even Armstrong and his team tend to forget in their bid to leave his image untarnished is that it is unlikely the investigation is focussed on whether he used drugs and cheated. It’s much more likely to be about tax evasion, fraud, racketeering, large scale distribution of illegal drugs and misappropriation of federal funds (dating from when the US Postal Service sponsored his team).

USA magazine, and previous Armstrong cheerleaders, Bicycling did a neat summary of some facts to consider back in the spring which I’ve changed a little bit stylistically and added to given latest events. See below.

Bikes for Dope

ALLEGATION: In a July 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Floyd Landis said Armstrong manager Johan Bruyneel told him that the team sold some sponsor equipment to finance doping.

RELEVANCY: It's not unheard of for pro teams or racers to sell off equipment, especially at the end of a season. What's key is the allegation that the team orchestrated the sales explicitly to fund doping. That would constitute evidence of a systematic operation with full knowledge and participation by team officials.

RESPONSE: Bruyneel didn't respond to the Wall Street Journal's request for comment. Robert Burns, Trek's general counsel, said Trek (supplier of the teams bikes) was aware of the sales but not where the cash might've gone.

Proving this probably requires corroboration by a person who knew about the sales and how the proceeds were used—a small circle of people not subject to U.S. subpoena power.

The Transfusions

ALLEGATION: In the original e-mails leaked to the media on 20 May 2010 and in the July Journal story, Landis claimed that during the '04 Tour de France he transfused blood twice under the supervision of Postal team personnel, and saw Armstrong taking transfusions both times.

In accounts published in two books, Motorola racer Stephen Swart says Armstrong was the central agitator pushing riders to dope.

RELEVANCY: An eyewitness account of Armstrong doping would be a game-ender—if corroborated or on its own accepted as truth by a jury. See Hamilton revelations.

RESPONSE: In a statement the day after the July story ran, Armstrong said the account was "full of false accusations." Bruyneel said he absolutely denied Landis's accusations.

A direct eyewitness account, if upheld, is one of the strongest types of evidence. But investigators most likely need corroboration to feel confident. George Hincapie, who among others was said by Landis to be present for and participating in the transfusions, has also been subpoenaed.

The Ringleader

ALLEGATION: In accounts published in two books, Motorola racer Stephen Swart says Armstrong was the central agitator pushing riders to dope.

RELEVANCY: This predates Armstrong's time on Postal, but could help establish that he had both the ability and intent to push other riders into a systematic program of doping.

RESPONSE: Armstrong sued over one of the books, L.A. Confidentiel, in France. He also sued the author's employer, The Sunday Times, for repeating some of the allegations. He dropped one of his suits in France; the other was dismissed. The Times settled out of court.

Without corroboration, Swart's story probably isn't enough to sway a jury. If prosecutors find another witness, establishing that Armstrong had been elemental in a previous systematic doping program could help boost their case that one existed at US Postal.

The Hospital Room

ALLEGATION: In arbitration between Armstrong and SCA Promotions (over the payment of a bonus he was due for winning the Tour), former teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, said under oath that in '96 Armstrong admitted to medical staff treating him for his cancer that he had doped with EPO, growth hormone, testosterone and other drugs.

In a Sports Illustrated story in January, Armstrong is said to have returned at least three tests in the 1990s that indicated testosterone doping

RELEVANCY: Though this has been one of the most contentious incidents in the decades-long doping debate, it predates Armstrong's time on Postal. One tenuous connection: This allegation could be used to establish that Armstrong was at least at one point in his career open to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

RESPONSE: Other witnesses present that day—including his coach Chris Carmichael, then-girlfriend Lisa Shiels and Oakley's Stephanie McIlvain—either didn't testify or didn't corroborate the Andreus. Armstrong introduced a signed affidavit from his chief oncologist, Craig Nichols, MD, affirming that he never heard the racer admit drug use.

This one is a mess. McIlvain—who seems to contradict her testimony in a widely distributed tape previous American Tour de France winner Greg LeMond secretly made years ago, and who was reportedly questioned under subpoena by the FDA investigators for seven hours—is easily painted as lacking credibility; Betsy Andreu maintains Nichols wasn't in the room. Armstrong bequeathed a large sum, possibly as much as $500,000, to the hospital shortly afterwards.

Cover-Ups

ALLEGATION: In a Sports Illustrated story in January, Armstrong is said to have returned at least three tests in the 1990s that indicated testosterone doping. When requested by the USOC to confirm the results by testing the B samples, Don Catlin, the anti-doping scientist whose laboratory performed the procedure, was allegedly unable to confirm two. The result of the third was not addressed by Catlin in the materials the SI reporters discovered.

RELEVANCY: Some experts say such a high incidence of failing to confirm a test is extremely unusual, and at worst could indicate collusion.

Former Armstrong soigneur Emma O'Reilly told journalist David Walsh that, in '99, the team forged a backdated prescription to explain a positive test in Stage 1 of the Tour.

ARMSTRONG'S RESPONSE: He did not respond to SI's requests for comment or offer any statements afterward, other than one by Mark Fabiani that the story was based on lies. Catlin has said his quotes were taken out of context and mischaracterized.

The key isn't the tests, which aren't actionable. It's the picture SI paints of an improper relationship between athletes and the people policing them. Armstrong's agent, Bill Stapleton, was a USOC official from '97 to '04, and Catlin was the expert Armstrong called on in '08 to devise an independent testing program, which was discontinued after a single test sample.

The Saddle Sore

ALLEGATION: Former Armstrong soigneur Emma O'Reilly told journalist David Walsh that, in '99, the team forged a backdated prescription to explain a positive test in Stage 1 of the Tour.

RELEVANCY: The federal case potentially includes an accusation that Armstrong defrauded the government by securing more than $40 million of sponsorship money from the U.S. Postal Service from '99 to '04. If Armstrong duped his way out of a positive test, fraud might become a reasonable assertion.

RESPONSE: He has always maintained that the prescription—to treat a saddle sore—was legitimate.

However to be allowed to use it you had to have a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption). Armstrong didn’t. In fact he declared on his medical form for the race that he was not using any medicines of any kind.

In fact they have said that they have issued a writ. Landis however has not received it and despite repeated asking has yet to receive it.

The Bribe

ALLEGATION: In the e-mails to cycling officials obtained by the Wall Street Journal and other publications, Landis alleged that Armstrong told him that Bruyneel and Armstrong flew to UCI headquarters in Switzerland to make a financial agreement with UCI president Hein Verbruggen to suppress a positive test result Armstrong generated at the Tour of Switzerland.

RELEVANCY: If proved true, this would be highly damaging to Armstrong. It would establish that he doped while on Postal. And bribing away positive tests would destroy what is probably Armstrong's most compelling overall contention: that for more than a decade he's been extensively examined by anti-doping officials and not once turned up positive.

RESPONSE: The UCI has denied bribes or cover-ups, and threatened legal action against Landis for defamation. In fact they have said that they have issued a writ. Landis however has not received it and despite repeated asking has yet to receive it. Armstrong has not issued proceedings against Landis of any kind.

Armstrong has made at least two donations to the UCI, totaling $125,000, which have been characterized by him and UCI officials as contributions to anti-doping efforts. Current UCI president Pat McQuaid acknowledged the donations and admits it was a mistake to accept them, but claims nothing untoward resulted. Despite claiming that he would publish accounts relating to this on the UCI website nothing has appeared.

Dr. Ferrari

ALLEGATION: In the leaked e-mails and in the Journal, Landis claims that in 2002 Dr. Michele Ferrari, Armstrong's coach and training advisor, extracted half a liter of blood from Landis that Ferrari said would be transfused back into him at the Tour de France.

However a separate investigation in Italy has revealed through phone taps that Armstrong has met Ferrari numerous times since, usually in Monaco or Switzerland.

RELEVANCY: Armstrong's association with Ferrari has long been problematic. Ferrari has been linked to doping many times, dating back to the mid '90s.

RESPONSE: When David Walsh in '02 revealed the association between Armstrong and Ferrari (which is understood to date to the mid '90s), Armstrong defended the doctor. After Ferrari was convicted in Italy of fraud and malpractice in '04 in relation to doping, Armstrong formally severed ties.

However a separate investigation in Italy has revealed through phone taps that Armstrong has met Ferrari numerous times since, usually in Monaco or Switzerland. Most recently just before last years Tour de France.

HemAssist

ALLEGATION: SI reported in January that Armstrong obtained the blood substitute HemAssist, which had been pulled from clinical trials.

RELEVANCY: HemAssist was a strictly controlled experimental drug, illegal for private citizens to possess—which would be why the FDA is investigating events that might have occurred in European bike races a decade ago.

RESPONSE: Impossible, says his spokesman, Fabiani: HemAssist was pulled from clinical trials in '98, before Armstrong won his first Tour.

After Armstrong retired in '05, French sports daily l'Equipe published a story claiming that anti-doping samples belonging to Armstrong from the '99 Tour had tested positive for EPO.

Fabiani is correct that HemAssist was pulled in 1998, but supplies still may have been available: Its maker operated a division in Colorado, until '03, and when a clinical drug trial is discontinued, each trial site (there were more than a dozen in the United States and Europe) disposes its own stocks.

The 1999 Samples

ALLEGATION: After Armstrong retired in '05, French sports daily l'Equipe published a story claiming that anti-doping samples belonging to Armstrong from the '99 Tour had tested positive for EPO.

RELEVANCY: This would be direct clinical evidence of doping by Armstrong on Postal—damning proof.

RESPONSE: Armstrong let the UCI handle the matter (Quelle surprise – as they sometimes say in France). An independent investigator, Emile Vrijman, issued an official report exonerating Armstrong and calling into question the lab's handling of confidential samples.

The test samples were drawn for research only—in part, to help develop tests such as the one for EPO that began in the 2000 season—so there was no twin A and B sample as mandated under anti-doping regulations. Those rules don't apply in federal court, so if the FDA obtains samples that can be shown to be Armstrong's and contain EPO, it could stand as solid proof. Also Vrijman has been discredited by many.

’60 Minutes’ airs Sunday 7pm EST on CBS

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