Cycling world reacts to Armstrong report

JEROME PUGMIRE
Last updated 09:08 12/10/2012

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Despite the reluctance of Tour de France organisers to speak about the US Anti-Doping Agency's long and damning report on Lance Armstrong, others have been more than willing to talk about it.

Yesterday, USADA released reams of evidence from former US Postal Service teammates and corroborated by sworn affidavits into doping practices engaged and overseen by Armstrong during his rise to the top of cycling.

USADA's report accuses Armstrong of depending on performance-enhancing drugs to fuel all of his seven straight Tour titles.

Bruno Genevois, the head of the French Anti-Doping Agency that cooperated with USADA during its investigation, said Armstrong needs to respond to the report.

"If the report is solid, this proves that no sportsman, no matter what his notoriety, is sheltered from anti-doping legislation," Bruno Genevois told The Associated Press by telephone today. "My second observation is to say that the sportsman in question must be called to explain himself, (so) that we don't draw premature conclusions (without) having heard (from Armstrong)."

Only cycling's governing body, the UCI, can ratify USADA's decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour titles. Tour owner Amaury Sport Organisation has remained silent, saying only that it can't comment - or won't - until after the UCI's decision.

Among the 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong are George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Jonathan Vaughters, Levi Leipheimer - the last of whom has since been suspended by his team - and Frankie Andreu, whose wife, Betsy Andreu, provided USADA with her affidavit last month.

The Andreus were former friends of Armstrong. Betsy became close friends with Armstrong's ex-wife, Kristin Armstrong, when they were living in Europe. She has been one of Armstrong's most consistent and unapologetic critics.

"I am absolutely grateful to USADA. They didn't cave to political pressure nor to the once powerful Armstrong and his mafia tactics," Betsy Andreu said Thursday in an email to The AP. "You didn't need to dope to finish 111th in the Tour, but you needed to dope to be on Lance's Tour team and/or make the big money."

Although Frankie Andreu admitted to doping while on Armstrong's team, he did so reluctantly and expressed reservations.

"Once Frankie refused to be part of Lance's doping program once and for all, his career as a pro in the sport was over," Betsy said. "The evidence provided by USADA should prevent that from ever happening again to anyone who refuses to dope and wants to compete clean."

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French rider Christophe Bassons never really got the chance to show what he could do riding clean during cycling's doping nadir.

A promising rider, Bassons was cold-shouldered within the sport's peloton because of his outspoken views against doping.

"In the 1999 Tour de France there were some clashes with Lance Armstrong because I spoke up about what I saw and what I thought. This upset him," Bassons, who also testified to USADA, told RMC radio in an interview. "Ever since, he's always acted in the same way, he tries to act like the boss. Even against USADA he tries to act like this. USADA wants to ban him from competitions, and he permits himself to do a triathlon."

"What may seem surprising is that this affair has broken out so late, that it took so long. But the person defending himself (Armstrong) had big financial means, political support. He built a castle to protect himself."

Among those alleged to have protected Armstrong is the UCI, cycling's governing body.

Witnesses David Zabriskie and Vaughters said (US Postal) team director Johan Bruyneel and his staff "always seemed to know" when testers would arrive, thanks to "an outstanding early warning system."

The AFLD took over responsibility from the UCI for testing at the 2009 Tour - Armstrong's comeback after four years away - and shared its doubts with USADA.

"The Astana team, of which Lance Armstrong was a member, benefited from privileged information or timing advantages during doping control tests," agency official Jean-Pierre Vardy said in a sworn statement.

Bassons believes the UCI acted inappropriately.

"This affair is a hot potato because we know the relations Lance Armstrong could have built with the UCI," Bassons said. "If Armstrong goes down one day, other heads will roll. He will say stuff and I don't think he'll go down alone."

Multiple examples of Armstrong using multiple drugs were detailed in USADA's report. They include the EPO, citing the "clear finding" of the blood-boosting hormone in six blood samples from the '99 Tour that were retested. UCI concluded that those samples were mishandled and couldn't be used as evidence.

Genevois confirmed that the AFLD had handed over analytical findings to USADA president Travis Tygart when he visited Paris in March.

"We gave (to USADA) all the elements in our possession which would become the subject of analytic proofs," Genevois said. "An exchange of information between agencies which, in my opinion, is going in the right direction. Everything he asked for in terms of samples (or) the reliability of our analysis in case there are grounds for dispute."

Former AFLD president Pierre Bordry had a tense relationship with Armstrong when the American returned to professional cycling.

"It's an important case and an extremely serious one. But I don't want to intervene," Bordry told The AP by telephone. "The AFLD has always done its job carefully and tried to apply the law."

Cyrille Guimard, a former sprinter who won seven Tour stages, also criticized the UCI.

"The UCI has slammed the brakes on in this affair ... It would seem that Lance Armstrong was more or less covered," Guimard told RMC.

Cycling Australia president Klaus Mueller revived the push for a doping amnesty to allow cyclists to admit to past offences, despite the UCI backing away from the idea in recent weeks.

He also said the Armstrong case provides an opportunity for the Australian Government to review the resources and powers of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency, "especially in light of the extensive investigation and action taken by USADA in their pursuit of this case."

Bradley Wiggins, who won the Tour and Olympic gold this year, told British TV station Sky News that he is "shocked at the scale of the evidence" against Armstrong.

"It's pretty damning stuff. It is pretty jaw-dropping the amount of people who have testified against him. It is certainly not a one-sided hatchet job, it is pretty damning," Wiggins said. "I have been involved in pro cycling for a long time and I realize what it takes to train and win the Tour de France.

"I'm not surprised by it ... I had a good idea what is going on."

A rare voice of support came from disgraced Italian cyclist Riccardo Ricco, who was thrown off the 2008 Tour for using CERA - an advanced form of EPO - and sentenced to a 12-year doping ban in April for transfusions using his own blood.

"Armstrong was a champion, period. He didn't excite me but he was a great rider," Ricco said on his official Twitter account.

There was comment from other sports, too.

"We've got to really separate, at least for now, the (Lance Armstrong) foundation from the man. It's hard to do that today when we've just read the news," MLS commissioner Don Garber said from London. "It's very sobering, it's very disappointing - it's heartbreaking."

- AP

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