The former head of the UCI refuted Lance Armstrong’s claims that the sport’s governing body helped him cover up a positive test for corticosteroids during the 1999 Tour de France on Tuesday, offering an explanation of sorts, which amounted to this: the UCI didn’t know the now infamous prescription was backdated.
In a story published over the weekend by The Daily Mail that centered around a meeting between Armstrong and former U.S. Postal Service soigneur Emma O’Reilly, Armstrong claimed that it was former UCI president Hein Verbruggen’s idea to cover up a positive test for cortisone, a banned steroid, with a Therapeutic Use Exemption, or TUE. Armstrong had previously said there were no true “deals” with the UCI, but has now changed course.
In an email to VeloNews, Verbruggen, who stepped down from his UCI presidency in 2005 but remained on as “honorary president,” said it was the French Ministry, not the UCI, that was responsible for conducting anti-doping controls at the Tour de France until 2006, and refuted Armstrong’s assertion that it was he who helped cover up a test.
“It must be very hard to cover up a positive case that was not a positive case,” Verbruggen wrote. “[Until] 2006 it was the French Ministry that was responsible for anti-doping in France with the UCI as kind of an observer. It was the Ministry that decided that [Armstrong] was not positive since they accepted his explanation (ointment). Conclusion: [the] story about cover-up is nonsense.”
A statement sent to VeloNews by Verbruggen on Tuesday examined the matter further, indicating what Verbruggen believes shows the UCI followed the proper protocol at the time.
The test for corticosteroids was introduced at the 1999 Tour, the report notes, and the application and acceptance from anti-doping bodies regarding corticosteroids varied. Some provisions of Olympic and French anti-doping rules seem to have allowed for the use of the drugs without a concrete call for prescriptions in some instances, according to Verbruggen’s letter, but the UCI itself required a doctor’s note for any application of the drugs. Corticosteroids contribute to recovery in endurance athletes and have been used in the peloton for at least two decades.
The release notes Armstrong was tested 15 times at the 1999 Tour de France. Traces of triamcinolone, a corticosteroid, were found on four occasions: July 4, July 14, July 15, and July 21. Verbruggen’s file says that when the UCI learned of the results from the July 4 test, a doctor called the team to ask if there was a prescription.
A prescription was eventually provided, only after the test on July 4, and it’s unclear if the note was delivered the same day or the following day. The eventual note came from Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral and was dated July 3.
The file from Verbruggen reads: “The samples taken during the 1999 Tour de France were analyzed by the French National Anti-Doping Laboratory in Châtenay-Malabry… The French Ministry came to the conclusion that there had been no anti-doping rule violation. In a conversation with the UCI’s Dr. Schattenberg at the time, the French Ministry doctor confirmed that the presence of traces of corticosteroids found in samples taken from Armstrong was compatible with the use of a skin cream; that the use of a skin cream was accepted as proven by the French Ministry; and that there was therefore no anti-doping rule violation.”
Verbruggen also notes that Armstrong was not summoned to provide a medical justification for the findings the Paris lab reported.
“This means that the French Ministry was completely satisfied that the corticosteroids had been used in a way that was not forbidden and that no further justification therefore needed to be provided,” the file from Verbruggen reads. “No disciplinary proceedings were therefore set in motion against Armstrong by or at the request of the French authorities.”
Verbruggen also recently said the UCI didn’t know the now infamous TUE was backdated.
“It should be stressed that this case was handled knowing only the facts which were apparent at that time. For example, the UCI did not know that the medical certificate handed over to Dr. Schattenberg, a member of UCI’s Anti-doping Commission, in July 1999 had been post-dated. Armstrong only admitted this during his interview with Oprah Winfrey, which was broadcast on 17 January 2013,” his release reads.