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Analysis: What USADA’s case file means to those involved

  • By Neal Rogers
  • Published Oct. 11, 2012
  • Updated Oct. 11, 2012 at 4:31 PM EDT
Lance Armstrong's fairytale career came crashing down on Wednesday. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

The long wait is finally over.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published its case file against the Lance Armstrong Wednesday morning, including sworn statements from more than two dozen witnesses, including 11 former teammates, many whom never tested positive, as well as banking records from a Swiss company controlled by Dr. Michele Ferrari reflecting more than $1 million in payments from Armstrong.

In total, USADA assembled a 1,000-page dossier, which it sent to the Union Cycliste Internationale; the summary alone was 200 pages. Included in the evidence:

Armstrong’s use of EPO and blood transfusions
Jonathan Vaughters saw Armstrong inject himself with EPO during the Vuelta a España in 1998. Tyler Hamilton saw Armstrong take EPO during the 1999 Tour de France. Floyd Landis saw Armstrong use EPO during the 2004 season. George Hincapie, the only rider who was with Armstrong for all seven of his Tour de France victories, said he was aware that Armstrong was using EPO and testosterone throughout the time they were teammates. Hincapie testified that, “from my conversations with Lance Armstrong and experiences with Lance and the team I am aware that Lance used blood transfusions from 2001 through 2005.”

Armstrong encouraged teammates to work with Dr. Michele Ferrari
Testimony from Hincapie, Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer states that in 2005 Ferrari provided them advice regarding the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Armstrong threatened teammates for not following Ferrari’s doping regimen
Testimony from Christian Vande Velde states that when Armstrong learned Vande Velde was not strictly adhering to the doping regimen prescribed by Ferrari (including regular use of EPO and testosterone), Armstrong came down hard on Vande Velde in a meeting involving Armstrong, Vande Velde and Ferrari in Armstrong’s Girona, Spain, apartment, following the 2002 Tour de France. Armstrong made it very clear to Vande Velde that if he did not shape up and conform to Ferrari’s doping program that Vande Velde would soon be kicked off the team.

Prior knowledge of unannounced drug tests
Testimony from Dave Zabriskie states that team manager Johan Bruyneel “always seemed to know” about impending drug tests. “Bruyneel’s warning that ‘they’re coming tomorrow’ came on more than one occasion,” Zabriskie testified.

The possibility of the UCI’s involvement in covering up a positive drug test
The case file contains inferences that the UCI refused to help in the USADA investigation, including the possible cover up of an Armstrong positive from the 2001 Tour de Suisse.

A long running relationship with Ferrari, well after Ferrari was convicted for sporting fraud
E-mails between Armstrong and Ferrari’s son, Stefano, obtained by USADA investigator Jack Robertson from Italian Carabinieri NAS, include references to Armstrong’s training regimen and payment plan to Ferrari. In all, Armstrong paid Ferrari over $1 million; the relationship continued during Armstrong’s comeback, in 2009-2010, and into his recent foray into triathlon competition.

Instances of retaliation and attempted witness intimidation
Armstrong sent threatening text messages to Levi Leipheimer and his wife, Odessa, after Leipheimer testified to federal investigators in October 2010.

These facts, and countless others, complete the picture of what went on within Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team during his seven Tour wins and his comeback in 2009 and 2010.

As USADA chief Travis Tygart wrote in an early press release, “The evidence of the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming. The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

The reason for the delay in delivering the file to the UCI is now clear; since USADA first filed its charging letter on June 12, detailing a 14-year doping conspiracy — a charge Armstrong chose not to contest via an arbitration hearing — the anti-doping agency has compiled additional testimony. Canadian Michael Barry’s sworn affidavit is dated Monday, October 8, as an example.

As Tygart wrote, the avalanche of evidence, and the detail of the testimony that supports USADA’s “Reasoned Decision”, truly is overwhelming, and impossible to deny.

The full case file will no doubt bring vindication to the numerous doping accusations leveled at Armstrong over the years, including the federal investigation that was mysteriously shelved earlier this year.

It also serves as vindication to former Armstrong associates Betsy Andreu and Michael Anderson, three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond, and journalists Paul Kimmage and David Walsh, who have long suffered Armstrong’s wrath, often through his attorneys, for questioning the veracity of his victories.

Indeed, Anderson, Armstrong’s former personal mechanic who was later sued by the former Tour champ, took to Twitter Wednesday, writing, “Vindication has been snatched from the greedy hands of the biggest fraud in history and rightfully handed to those who fought for the truth.”

So now what?

For starters, the UCI must begin repairing the extensive damage it has done to its public image. Just days after touting its defamation lawsuit against Floyd Landis, and with another slated against Kimmage, the international federation now appears to, at best, have poorly managed the sport’s widespread doping era, and at worst, been involved in covering those problems up.

In the report, USADA writes that UCI president Pat McQuaid has “acknowledged that during 2002, Armstrong and Bruyneel visited the UCI headquarters in Aigle and offered at least $100,000 to help the development of cycling… Further, USADA reports that Dr. Martial Saugy, the Director of the WADA-accredited anti-doping laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, has confirmed to both USADA and the media that his laboratory detected a number of samples in the 2001 Tour de Suisse that were suspicious for the presence of EPO. Dr. Saugy also told USADA that he was advised by UCI that at least one of these samples belonged to Mr. Armstrong.”

In order to evaluate whether Armstrong’s test from the 2001 Tour de Suisse was merely suspicious, or whether, using the current EPO positivity criteria, Armstrong’s samples could definitively establish the presence of synthetic EPO standing alone, USADA requested the UCI to deliver the test results from Armstrong’s Tour de Suisse samples. The UCI denied that request, however, stating that it “had asked for Mr. Armstrong’s consent to provide this information to USADA, but that Mr. Armstrong had refused.”

The USADA report also states that admitted doper Jörg Jaksche testified that the UCI has responded with “disdain and disinterest towards other cyclists that have tried to bring forth evidence of the serious extent of doping within the peloton.”

After months of wrestling publicly with USADA over jurisdiction in the case, the UCI issued a statement Wednesday that said little: “The UCI has been advised by USADA that it’s reasoned decision and supporting material is available to view on its website. The UCI will examine all information received in order to consider issues of appeal and recognition, jurisdiction and statute of limitation, within the term of appeal of 21 days, as required by the World Anti-Doping Code. The UCI will endeavour to provide a timely response and not to delay matters any longer than necessary. ”

USA Cycling also emerges from USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” appearing conflicted and ineffective, as evidenced by the national federation’s lack of knowledge of its own riders’ suspensions.

USA Cycling chief operating officer Sean Petty told VeloNews he had not received a formal indication from USADA that Leipheimer, Vande Velde, Hincapie or Danielson should face sanction.

“In every previous doping case, USA Cycling has been informed by USADA and asked to suspend those riders,” Petty said. “We are the body that would suspend riders, as they are licensees. They would tell us the terms of the suspension, as well as in the cases of riders with international licenses, they would also tell the UCI. All I can tell you is that we also read USADA’s statement that the riders have been suspended, and at this point we have not been informed about any riders involved in this other than Lance Armstrong.”

The national cycling federation, which has sided with the UCI in its battle with USADA over jurisdiction of the case, was largely left in the dark about an investigation on its own soil.

Per the foundation’s bylaws, Steve Johnson, president and CEO of USA Cycling, sits as an ex officio non-voting member on the USA Cycling Development Foundation, a nonprofit founded by former Postal Service team boss Thom Weisel. Weisel, a wealthy San Francisco financier, still sits on the foundation’s board of directors; during Armstrong’s peak years, Johnson and Weisel raced together on a Postal Service masters team. Johnson began working with the federation in 1999 as a consultant, and in 2000, he worked with Weisel to launch the development foundation and became an employee of USA Cycling. Former USA Cycling president Jim Ochowicz, godfather to Armstrong’s first son and manager at BMC Racing, worked under Weisel for years.

(According to LeMond’s sworn deposition from a 2005 arbitration case, he once received a phone call from Weisel, who said, “You know, what you’re saying about Lance isn’t good for you. You better be careful.”)

An overarching conflict of interest between USA Cycling, the UCI and those who ran the U.S. Postal team has left the federation largely on the sidelines.

Time will tell if the sentiment shifts toward or against those active riders who testified, including three from Garmin-Sharp in Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie and Tom Danielson. All three are serving six-month suspensions, the minimum sentence allowed under WADA Code, and are allowed to return to competition on March 1. All three riders issued statements Wednesday that, while heartfelt, all appeared lifted from the same PR script as those from George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and Canadian Michael Barry: “Cycling was my childhood dream. I found myself in an impossible situation, and I crossed a line. I accept blame. I’m sorry.”

Now retired, fan-favorite Hincapie must also face the consequences of having cheated and buried a lie for the better part of 15 years. The only rider to have been part of all seven of Armstrong’s Tour wins, and Armstrong’s longtime faithful lieutenant, Hincapie had nothing to gain and everything to lose by testifying before the federal grand jury and later USADA. He issued a statement Wednesday admitting to have doped through 2006 — something the USADA file makes clear with Hincapie’s statement that Armstrong provided him with EPO on multiple occasions.

“Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them,” Hincapie wrote. “I deeply regret that choice and sincerely apologize to my family, teammates and fans.”

And while truth is always better late than never, for Hincapie to call the years before 2006, when he says he quit doping, as his “early career” is disingenuous; he raced as a pro from 1994 through 2012. The 2006 season was two-thirds through a long pro career bolstered by the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Barry also released a statement, writing, “After being encouraged by the team, pressured to perform and pushed to my physical limits I crossed a line I promised myself and others I would not: I doped. It was a decision I deeply regret. It caused me sleepless nights, took the fun out of cycling and racing, and tainted the success I achieved at the time. This was not how I wanted to live or race.”

Barry’s team, Sky, will also find itself under scrutiny.

On Tuesday a Sky spokesperson told Cyclingnews.com that it had severed its relationship with former Rabobank team doctor Geert Leinders. Current Tour champion Bradley Wiggins faced scrutiny in July for the team’s relationship with Leinders; in Leipheimer’s sworn affidavit, he admits to having doped from 2002 to 2004 with the aid of a Rabobank team doctor.

As for Leipheimer, his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team claims to have put him on non-active status, a meaningless designation, as the race season is effectively over, and USADA provided documentation that his suspension began on September 1.

In his own statement, which appeared on WSJ.com, Leipheimer wrote, “Having made sacrifices for my dream, several years after I turned pro, I came to see cycling for what it was: a sport where some team managers and doctors coordinated and facilitated the use of banned substances and methods by their riders. A sport where the athletes at the highest level — perhaps without exception — used banned substances. 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… Right or wrong, in my mind the choice was ‘do it or go home.’ For me that was not a choice.”

And then there’s Armstrong, who still, shockingly, vehemently denies any wrongdoing. On Wednesday evening, Armstrong sent out a defiant message on Twitter: “What am I doing tonight? Hanging with my family, unaffected, and thinking about this,” linking to a 15-year anniversary event for his cancer foundation. He also tweeted the link to a YouTube video of deceased singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, singing “Coming Up Roses”.

If Armstrong is defiant, perhaps it’s because he has no choice. As noted in an Outside article last month, Armstrong risks jail, perjury charges and damages from past lawsuits should he ever admit to doping.

Instead, he continues to compete in triathlons that are not sanctioned by USA Triathlon. Last week Armstrong told triathlon magazine LAVA, “I wake up and my mind and my conscience and my view on my life and my world, my future and my kids’ future is perfectly clear.”

Meanwhile, Armstrong attorney Tim Herman continues to assail USADA’s case and its protocol. “We weren’t about to go through another year like the last two years dealing with the emotional and financial stress on Lance,” Herman said Wednesday on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”. “The process is completely rigged. I don’t care what Travis Tygart says, Christians dealing with the lions in Rome had a better record than athletes dealing with USADA. It’s a rigged system.”

With a November USADA arbitration hearing scheduled, Johan Bruyneel and former team doctors Pedro Celaya and Luis del Moral must now decide if they truly want to face the overwhelming evidence gathered, which might, in this case, actually fit Herman’s analogy of being thrown to the lions. It’s virtually impossible to imagine any of those three men stepping into a hearing now.

Also among those who must answer for their actions is Andre Birotte, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, who discontinued the 22-month federal investigation without explanation on February 3 of this year — a 5 p.m. Friday announcement prior to Super Bowl Sunday that had the appearance of a major story buried at an opportune moment.

As WSJ.com reported, a spokesman for the office said Birotte Jr. made the decision not to pursue a prosecution after reviewing the evidence and consulting with his top lieutenants; Birotte told at least one investigator that his decision was final and that there would be no discussion of the matter, a person close to the investigation said.

Reports from the Department of Justice office trickled out that several agents working on the case were in shock at its closure, learning only 15 minutes before Birotte’s announcement. In his tell-all book “The Secret Race,” Hamilton writes that federal agent Jeff Novitzky was so angered over the suspended case that he considered quitting his job with the Food and Drug Administration.

The evidence gathered by USADA once again brings Birotte’s closure into question. VeloNews has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the federal case, though the Justice Department has yet to respond.

As for the remaining Armstrong faithful, at this point, it’s unlikely they will be swayed. Because of his amazing cancer story, Armstrong is one of the few athletes, or even celebrities, who inspires absolute blind faith. Those undeterred by Landis’ accusations, Hamilton’s book, or the fact that Armstrong opted out of an arbitration hearing, aren’t going to be convinced based on the evidence in the case file. In the face of anything less than an admission, they will likely remain loyal to Armstrong, Livestrong, Nike, Trek, Oakley, Honey Stinger and the rest of the Armstrong brand.

VeloNews reached out to Trek, Nike and Oakley regarding Armstrong on Wednesday but has yet to hear back.

Meanwhile, Armstrong’s cancer survivorship foundation Livestrong charges on. On Tuesday, Livestrong posted a job listing for, of all things, a government relations manager — poignant considering that the Texas-based charity sent a lobbyist to Capitol Hill in June to discuss USADA’s funding. (USADA receives about $10 million a year in the form of a grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.)

As for the cycling media, like it or not, the trove of information found in the USADA case file will serve as fodder for months to come. Given the UCI’s unclear stance in Armstrong’s sanctioning, Bruyneel’s upcoming arbitration hearing, the prospect of civil lawsuits against Armstrong, and the possibility that the federal investigation could be reopened, this story is far from over.

Wednesday was Armstrong’s day of reckoning; however the fallout from USADA’s well-documented case against the former world champion will continue for months, if not years.

Editor’s Note: This analysis originally referred to USA Cycling president and CEO Steve Johnson as the executive director of the USA Cycling Development Foundation. Mr. Johnson is an ex officio non-voting member of the foundation’s board of directors and has never served as its executive director. USA Cycling hired Mr. Johnson in 2000 and in 2006 he accepted the position of CEO, replacing Gerard Bisceglia. VeloNews regrets this error.

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Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers is editor in chief of Velo magazine and VeloNews.com. An interest in all things rock 'n' roll led him into music journalism while attending UC Santa Cruz, on the central coast of California. After several post-grad years spent waiting tables, surfing, and mountain biking, he moved to San Francisco, working as a bike messenger, and at a software startup. He moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2001, taking an editorial internship at VeloNews. He never left. When not traveling the world covering races, he can be found riding his bike, skiing, or attending a concert.

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