They came from computer records, books, media reports and, maybe most significantly, the people Lance Armstrong used to train alongside and celebrate with. The people he used to call his friends.
Hit with a lifetime ban and the loss of all seven of his Tour de France titles, Armstrong challenged the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to give him the names of all his accusers. The agency obliged, listing 26, including 11 former teammates.
Armstrong said he wanted to see the hard evidence that he was a doper, and USADA gave him that, too, in the form of a 200-page tome filled with vivid recollections — the hotel rooms riders transformed into makeshift blood-transfusion centers, the way Armstrong’s former wife rolled cortisone pills into foil and handed them out to the cyclists.
The report, released Wednesday, depicts what USADA chief Travis Tygart called “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
Armstrong’s attorney called it a “one-sided hatchet job.”
Either way, it serves up the most detailed, unflinching portrayal yet of Armstrong as a man who would pay virtually any price — financially, emotionally and physically — to win the seven Tour de France titles that the anti-doping agency has ordered taken away.
It presents as matter-of-fact reality that winning and doping went hand-in-hand in cycling and that Armstrong was the focal point of a big operation, running teams that were the best at getting it done without getting caught. Armstrong won the Tour as leader of the U.S. Postal Service team from 1999-2004 and again in 2005 with the Discovery Channel as the primary sponsor.
USADA said the path Armstrong chose to pursue his goals “ran far outside the rules.”
It accuses him of depending on performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his victories and “more ruthlessly, to expect and to require that his teammates” do the same. Among the 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong are George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.
In a letter sent to USADA attorneys Tuesday, Armstrong’s attorney, Tim Herman, dismissed any evidence provided by Landis and Hamilton, saying the riders are “serial perjurers and have told diametrically contradictory stories under oath.”
Aware of the criticism his agency has faced from Armstrong and his legion of followers, Tygart insisted his group handled this case under the same rules as any other. Armstrong was given the chance to take his case to arbitration and declined, choosing in August to accept the sanctions instead, Tygart noted.
“We focused solely on finding the truth without being influenced by celebrity or non-celebrity, threats, personal attacks or political pressure because that is what clean athletes deserve and demand,” Tygart said.
The report called the evidence “as strong or stronger than any case brought in USADA’s 12 years of existence.”
The testimony of Hincapie, one of Armstrong’s closest and most loyal teammates through the years, was one of the report’s new revelations.
“I would have been much more comfortable talking only about myself, but understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything I knew. So that is what I did,” Hincapie said of his testimony to federal investigators and USADA.
His two-page statement did not mention Armstrong by name. Neither did statements from three other teammates-turned-witnesses, all of whom said this was a difficult-but-necessary process.
“I have failed and I have succeeded in one of the most humbling sports in the world,” former Armstrong teammate Christian Vande Velde said. “And today is the most humbling moment of my life.”
Tygart said evidence from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the U.S. Postal Service team’s doping activities, provided material for the report. The agency also interviewed Frankie Andreu, Levi Leipheimer, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie. Andreu’s wife, Betsy, was another key witness. She has been one of Armstrong’s most consistent and unapologetic critics.
“It took tremendous courage for the riders on the USPS Team and others to come forward and speak truthfully,” Tygart said.
In some ways, the USADA report simply pulls together and amplifies allegations that have followed Armstrong ever since he beat cancer and won the Tour for the first time. At various times and in different forums, Landis, Hamilton and others have said that Armstrong encouraged doping on his team and used banned substances himself.
But for those who have followed Armstrong and his story, this is a page turner. Written in a more conversational style than a typical legal document, the report lays out in chronological order, starting in 1998 and running through 2009:
— Multiple examples of Armstrong using drugs, including the blood-boosting hormone EPO, citing the “clear finding” of EPO in six blood samples from the 1999 Tour de France that were retested. The International Cycling Union (UCI) concluded those samples were mishandled and couldn’t be used to prove anything. In bringing up the samples, USADA said it considers them corroborating evidence that isn’t even necessary given the testimony of its witnesses.
— Testimony from Hamilton, Landis and Hincapie, all of whom say they received EPO from Armstrong.
— Evidence of the pressure Armstrong put on the riders to go along with the doping program.
“The conversation left me with no question that I was in the doghouse and that the only way forward with Armstrong’s team was to get fully on Dr. Ferrari’s doping program,” Vande Velde testified.
— What Vaughters called “an outstanding early warning system regarding drug tests.” One example came in 2000, when Hincapie found out there were drug testers at the hotel where Armstrong’s team was staying. Aware Armstrong had taken testosterone before the race, Hincapie alerted him and Armstrong dropped out of the race to avoid being tested, the report said.
Though she didn’t testify, Armstrong’s ex-wife, Kristin, is mentioned 30 times in the report.
In one episode, Armstrong asks her to wrap banned cortisone pills in foil to hand out to his teammates.
“Kristin obliged Armstrong’s request by wrapping the pills and handing them to the riders. One of the riders remarked, ‘Lance’s wife is rolling joints,’” the report read. Attempts to reach Kristin Armstrong were unsuccessful.
While the arguments about Armstrong will continue among sports fans — and there is still a question of whether USADA or the UCI has the ultimate authority to take away his Tour titles — the new report puts a cap on a long round of official investigations. Armstrong was cleared of criminal charges in February after a federal grand jury probe that lasted about two years.
USADA sought evidence from federal investigators, but in its report, the agency said none was ever turned over to its offices, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
UCI confirmed receiving the report and said it would respond to it soon, “not to delay matters any longer than necessary.” It has 21 days to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The head of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Doug Ulman, lauded Armstrong’s work as a cancer fighter. Armstrong won all his titles after overcoming testicular cancer.
“Our longstanding concerns about the impartiality and fairness of USADA’s proceeding are compounded today,” Ulman said. “As a federal judge pointed out, USADA appears motivated more by publicity rather than fulfilling its mission.”
Some of the newest information — never spelled out in detail before Wednesday — includes a depiction of Armstrong’s continuing relationship with physician and training guru Michele Ferrari. Like Armstrong, Ferrari has received a lifetime ban from USADA.
Long thought of as the mastermind of Armstrong’s alleged doping plan, Ferrari was investigated in Italy and Armstrong claimed he had cut ties with the doctor after a 2004 conviction that was later overturned. USADA cites financial records that show payments of at least $210,000 in the two years after that. It also cited emails from 2009 showing Armstrong asking Ferrari’s son if he could make a $25,000 cash payment the next time they saw each other.
“The repeated efforts by Armstrong and his representatives to mischaracterize and minimize Armstrong’s relationship with Ferrari are indicative of the true nature of that relationship,” the report states. “If there is not something to hide, there is no need to hide it and certainly no need to repeatedly lie about it.”
The report also went to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which also has the right to appeal, but so far has supported USADA’s position in the Armstrong case.
“We would like to commend USADA for having the courage and the resolve to keep focused in working on this difficult case for the sake of clean athletes and the integrity of sport,” WADA President John Fahey said.
ASO, the company that runs the Tour de France and could have a say in where Armstrong’s titles eventually go, said it has “no particular comment to make on this subject.”
Armstrong chose not to pursue the case and instead accepted the sanction, though he has consistently argued that the USADA system was rigged against him, calling the agency’s effort a “witch hunt” that used special rules it doesn’t follow in all its other cases.
His attorney, Herman, was even more pointed in his criticism. He called it “a one-sided hatchet job — a taxpayer funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories.”