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Analysis: How Spain became center of operations in Armstrong’s doping ring

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Oct. 16, 2012
French headlines have recently vilified Lance Armstrong, who had numerous run-ins with the French press and doping authorities. Photo: Franck Fife | AFP

Del Moral provides the gas

Things quickly accelerated with Bruyneel behind the wheel and Armstrong firmly established as the team’s outright leader. The 1999 Tour was the goal and the road to the Champs-Élysées was going to be paved in dope.

USADA said everything changed with the arrival of Del Moral: “Bruyneel brought Dr. del Moral with him from the ONCE operation, and del Moral and Bruyneel worked hand-in-hand in implementing the team-wide doping program on the U.S. Postal Service team during the period from 1999 through 2003.”

Riders who waivered on their commitment to sticking needles in their arm in order to win bike races were quickly jettisoned. Armstrong began pressuring other riders on the team to “get with the program” or face exclusion.

Under del Moral, the team ramped up its use of EPO injections and other banned substances such as testosterone, human growth hormone, cortisone and steroids, along with blood transfusions.

USADA said del Moral “formalized” the Postal Service doping program and quickly set about getting the team up to speed. Riders, however, were finding that they were missing the friendlier, more humane Celaya.

According to USADA, “Christian Vande Velde recalled Dr. del Moral as ‘gruff, aggressive and always seemed in a hurry.’ Vande Velde said, del Moral ‘would run into the room and you would quickly find a needle in your arm.’”

Another new face to show up was Pepe Martí, a self-professed trainer who soon became an integral part of the nuts and bolts operation and known within the team as the “courier.” According to USADA, Martí and Del Moral soon worked as a tandem.

Lurking in the background was Dr. Michele Ferrari, who, from his base in Italy, worked on training schedules and prescribing EPO doses. According to the USADA report, it was the Spanish pair on the ground in Spain that carried out the physical act of acquiring and administering the doping products:

In 1999 the U.S. Postal Service team had a well-developed system for delivering EPO to its riders during the season. Pepe Martí and Dr. del Moral were the riders’ principal sources of EPO and testosterone. Andreu got injections of EPO from Dr. del Moral at races. George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton confirmed that “EPO was provided by Pepe Martí who lived about three hours from where [Hincapie and Hamilton] lived in Girona, Spain”.

Del Moral also proved an invaluable and trustworthy accomplice.

According to USADA, when Armstrong tested positive for cortisone in the early going of the 1999 Tour, it was Del Moral that cooked up the backdated, fake Therapeutic Use Exemption to bypass a doping sanction.

USADA on the incident:

Tyler Hamilton remembers, “a great deal of swearing from Lance and Johan, and Dr. del Moral repeating, ‘¡Qué lío!’” Tyler said, the “general understanding was that they were scrambling to come up with something because Lance had used cortisone without medical authorization… Armstrong and the team officials agreed to have Dr. del Moral backdate a prescription for cortisone cream for Armstrong which they would claim had been prescribed in advance of the Tour to treat a saddle sore.”

The Spanish connections were clearly paying off. Against all odds, Armstrong beat the positive test and won the first of seven Tours in 1999.

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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