Lance Armstrong, currently racing in what he has said will be the final international race of his career in the Santos Tour Down Under, will be the subject of even more media attention than usual in South Australia today as American magazine Sports Illustrated publishes a major story regarding allegations of organised doping by the seven times Tour de France winner and his former US Postal Service team.
The full article will be revealed once the January 24 issue hits the newsstands across the United States next Monday, but the magazine has already provided a summary on its website of some of the allegations, which builds on those already circulating against Armstrong but also cites new witnesses who claim to have seen him engage in doping practices.
Those allegations include that Armstrong used EPO during the 1995 Tour de France, that he had abnormal testosterone-epitestosterone values, consistent with having doped, that he retained ties with Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari several years after claiming to have severed them, that he used the substance HemAssisit, then undergoing clinical trials, and that he managed to bluff his way out of trouble after Swiss customs officials allegedly discovered drugs and syringes in his bag.
Publication of the article has been the subject of much speculation on the social networking site Twitter over the past few weeks, and while the latest allegations, if true, are certainly damaging to Armstrong, there is a suspicion that Sports Illustrated has not gone public with all of the information gathered during journalists Selena Roberts and David Epstein’s research.
SI.com says that in investigating the story, Roberts and Epstein "reviewed hundreds of pages of documents and interviewed dozens of sources in Europe, New Zealand and the U.S."
Under the headline, “The Case Against Lance Armstrong,” the article sees the pair examine both existing and new allegations concerning the cyclist, currently at the centre of an investigation led by Food & Drug Administration Special Agent Jeff Novitzky, with a Federal Grand Jury issuing subpoenas and hearing testimony in Los Angeles, which the article acknowledges could lead to a “possible indictment” of the RadioShack rider.
Among the accusations levelled at Armstrong in the article are:
According to a source close to the government investigation, during the late 1990s, the cyclist obtained a drug undergoing clinical trials called HemAssist, said to boost the ability of the body to carry oxygen but without some of the dangers associated with EPO. Armstrong has denied taking the drug.
Secondly, there is a description by former US Postal Service team mate, confessed doper and chief accuser Floyd Landis that Armstrong was caught red-handed with drugs by customs officials in Switzerland. Landis claims that in 2003, he and other US Postal Service riders accompanied Armstrong on a private jet flight to St Moritz in Switzerland.
The article says that typically, customs have a more relaxed attitude when it comes to private jets compared to private flights, but on this occasion they asked Armstrong and his team mates to open their duffel bags.
"Lance had a bag of drugs and s---," Landis told Sports Illustrated. "They wanted to search it, which was out of the ordinary." Inside the bag, he adds, the officials found syringes, together with drugs with writing in Spanish on the labels. Armstrong, through a member of his entourage, apparently managed to persuade the Swiss officials that the drugs were vitamins, Landis saying that the customs officers “looked at us sideways but let us through." Sports Illustrated adds that Armstrong denies that the incident ever happened.
Another allegation concerns an Italian police raid last November on the house of one of Armstrong’s loyal lieutenants, Yarolslav Popovych, last November, where it is reported that they discovered illegal drugs and documents as well as e-mails and text messages that apparently link Armstrong to the Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari as late as 2009, although the Texan has said that he severed ties with Ferrari in 2004.
It was Armstrong’s relationship with Ferrari that led to his long-running dispute with the first American to win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond, when the latter questioned the exact nature of the treatment being provided by the doctor who at the time stood accused of violating doping laws in Italy, a charge he would escape from only by virtue of a statute of limitations.
Further questions are raised over allegedly abnormally high testosterone-epitestosterone ratios displayed by Armstrong between 1993 and 1996, with the magazine highlighting an apparent reluctance on the part of the United States Olympc Committee to commence proceedings against athletes using performance enhancing drugs.
The report also adds that in 1999, USA Cycling requested the UCLA laboratory of doping expert Don Catlin to release past test results for those values in relation to a cyclist known only by his doping control test numbers, the article adding that the cyclist was Armstrong. However, it adds, five test results could not be retrieved, and three of the ones that could be had unusually high levels, consistent with someone who was doping.
The article also contains a description by former Motorola rider Stephen Swart of how those team members in the 1995 Tour who were using EPO would check their haematocrit levels using a machine the size of a toaster at the team hotel each evening.
Swart, who has confessed to using EPO, told Sports Illustrated that Armstrong “was the instigator" of members of the team using the blood booster, adding, “it was his words that pushed us toward doing it."
The New Zealander described to the magazine’s journalists how he, Armstrong and other team members would prick their fingers, letting the blood run into a vial, which they would then put through the machine for a reading, mindful that if they were found to have a haematocrit level above50, they could be suspended for 15 days.
Swart admitted that during one rest day of the 1995 Tour, he himself had a reading of 48; “Lance,” he adds, “was 54 or 56.”
Shortly after the article appeared on SI.com, a tweet was posted to a Twitter feed belonging to Armstrong in the name of Juan Pelota, which he uses for his triathlon activities, saying simply, “That’s it?”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.