By Suzanne Halliburton Austin American-Statesman
AUSTIN, Texas — The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has filed drug conspiracy charges against Lance Armstrong, putting his seven Tour de France titles in jeopardy and at least temporarily ending his recent re-emergence in triathlons.
The agency, which regulates doping in U.S. Olympic sports, alleges that the 40-year-old Armstrong, his long-time team director Johan Bruyneel, two team doctors, a trainer and a medical adviser were part of an organized doping scheme dating back to possibly 1996.
The agency believes Armstrong possessed, distributed and encouraged others to use performance-enhancing drugs. It also said the circumstances are “aggravated,” which is why they will ask for a lifetime ban.
No other cyclist was charged, although in the letter that was leaked to a handful of national media outlets, USADA said it had testimony from at least 10 unidentified riders.
Two of those riders believed to have given testimony are Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. They are former friends of Armstrong’s who were suspended from cycling for doping after they had parted ways with Armstrong’s team. They have made fairly recent confessions of their own drug use, after long-time denials, while implicating Armstrong.
Armstrong, who has been in southern France for the past week training for a triathlon, issued a statement calling the USADA charges the result of a long-held “vendetta” against him.
“These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation,” Armstrong said.
“… I have never doped, and unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one. That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence.”
The next step is for Armstrong to answer the charges. The deadline is June 22. It probably will be headed for a hearing with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
There is an eight-year statute of limitation for doping charges. Armstrong won his Tour championships from 1999-2005. He finished third in 2009 after he came out of retirement.
USADA said it’s asking for the statute of limitations to be waived because of recent eyewitness testimony and the severity of the allegations. Most of what was listed in its 15-page letter was information that already had been printed in various articles throughout the years.
However, USADA claimed that the agency had evidence that Armstrong’s blood tests in 2009-10 showed manipulation and use of banned doping products.
Federal authorities recently concluded a near two-year investigation of Armstrong. But the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles declined to press charges and ended the investigation in February.
Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive officer, said then that his agency would continue to pursue its own investigation. On Wednesday, he said that USADA only initiates matters that are supported by evidence.
“We do not choose whether or not we do our job based on outside pressures, intimidation or for any reason other than the evidence,” Tygart said. “Our duty on behalf of clean athletes and those that value the integrity of sport is to fairly and thoroughly evaluate all the evidence available, and when there is credible evidence of doping, take action under the established rules.”
USADA had asked Armstrong for an immediate meeting to discuss the charges earlier this month. But Armstrong already had left for France for an extended training period for a June 24 triathlon.
Armstrong has had a long, contentious relationship with the World Anti-Doping Agency and USADA. In 2005, he filed an ethical complaint with the International Olympic Committee because of comments made by then WADA chief Dick Pound. The IOC, in a rare move, publicly reprimanded Pound in 2006.
A letter provided to the American-Statesman on Wednesday also shows evidence of a bad relationship between the doping agency and the cyclist. Through his attorney, Robert Luskin, Armstrong declined to meet with USADA because he said they wanted a confession, not information.
In his letter to USADA’s general counsel, Luskin described the investigation as a “charade” and said that witnesses have been “bought and paid for.”
Luskin wrote: “Taking all this into account, the obscene haste; your willful disregard of whether your investigation itself is the product of an unlawful conduct; and your blind embrace of witnesses whom every other responsible person has found unworthy of belief – leads us to the inevitable conclusion that this is not, in fact, an investigation as any fair-minded person would understand the term. It is a vendetta, which has nothing to do with learning the truth and everything to do with settling a score and garnering publicity at Lance’s expense.”
WHAT IS DOPING?
Blood doping in sports refers to the use of artificial means to enhance performance by boosting the number of red blood cells in an athlete’s body. Red blood cells deliver oxygen to body tissues, so making more of them increases aerobic capacity and endurance. There are three major types of doping:
Blood transfusions and injections of red blood cells, usually taken from the athlete and saved until needed, is one method of doping. So is the use of drugs and blood products to enhance the oxygen-carrying capacity of one’s own blood, for non-medical reasons.
Erythropoietin (EPO), banned since 1992, is such a drug. A hormone produced by the kidney, it stimulates the production of red blood cells and is used medically to treat certain kinds of anemia.
Hydroxy-ethyl starch (HES) expands the volume of blood plasma in the body and masks EPO use. Doctors normally use it to prevent shock following severe blood loss. It and other plasma-expanding products have been banned since 2000.