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Denial flushed away by detail

india Updated: Oct 12, 2012 02:32 IST

The release of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's "Reasoned Decision" on Lance Armstrong's use of performance enhancing drugs and organised doping by the US Postal Service and Discovery teams places in the public domain precisely the evidence that Armstrong had aimed to avoid being aired. Usada noted that Armstrong had "strategically avoided" a court of arbitration hearing on his case; and he must have hoped the report would stay on the shelf.
But Travis Tygart, Usada's CEO, was never going to accept that. In presenting the report, as promised, to the sport's governing body, the UCI, Usada said it was publishing regardless - first, for the sake of transparency, and second, specifically to counter the efforts of Armstrong's spokespersons to denigrate Usada witnesses. Earlier in the day, in fact, Armstrong's lawyer had dismissed Usada's evidence as the testimony of "serial perjurers".

Who to trust?
Until now, Armstrong's key accusers have been former team-mates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, both of whom had fought losing battles against their own doping charges. Armstrong thus could credibly call them tainted witnesses. What is immediately clear from Usada's report, however, is the sheer weight of evidence, backed up by sworn affidavits from former team-mates with no such stain on their integrity: Jonathan Vaughters (now Garmin team director), Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie, Michael Barry, Levi Leipheimer, Tom Danielson and others.

Six riders now receive six-month bans for their admissions of participating in the systematic doping programme run by Armstrong, and allegedly by Johan Bruyneel and their helpers in the USPS and Discovery teams during the period of Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories.

In earlier statements, when announcing that it was stripping Armstrong of his Tour titles, Usada had already laid out the charge sheet: systematic doping involving cortisone, testosterone, the blood-doping agent EPO, blood-doping itself, trafficking in performance-enhancing drugs, and a ruthless campaign of concealment, intimidation and misinformation. The testimony now available in detail is compelling — sometimes almost comic.

The funny side
According to two witnesses, the US Postal team doctor Pedro Celaya (who is charged by Usada and will face a hearing later this year) was thrown into a panic at the 1998 Tour de France by the Festina scandal, in which the French team was caught red-handed with a vast medicine cabinet of illegal drugs. Celaya flushed tens of thousands of dollars' worth of drugs down the toilet — though this would not have been much help if the French police had raided the team, because the toilet was in a camper van.

At the world championships that year, Usada reports, "Celaya smuggled a bag of saline under his rain coat, getting (it) past the (UCI) tester and administering it to Armstrong before Armstrong was required to provide a blood sample." It was a "daring manoeuvre", as Usada says, to ensure Armstrong would not be disqualified for having too high a haematocrit level (indicative of EPO use). But it wasn't enough to save Celaya's job.

Sinister connection
More sinister is the report's documentation of Lance Armstrong's relationship with Michele Ferrari, the notorious Italian doctor and coach now banned for life from the sport. Ferrari emerges as a central figure in the story: a sort of Svengali of systematic doping.

According to Usada, Armstrong's relationship with Ferrari went back to 1995 - well before Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer.

After his comeback, the partnership was cemented, and Usada says it has bank records showing more than $1m (£625,000) in payments made by Armstrong to a Swiss company controlled by Ferrari, including $475,000 in 2003 alone. The first recorded payments are in 1996 — a full five years before Armstrong publicly admitted to any dealings with Ferrari.