USADA's Travis Tygart received three death threats during Armstrong case

Anti-doping agency CEO speaks to l'Equipe about the investigations into former seven-time Tour winner

by Dave Atkinson   September 25, 2012  

Travis Tygart l'Equipe

Travis Tygart, the director of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), revealed in an interview with the French sports daily l'Equipe yesterday that he had received three death threats in response to the investigations into Lance Armstrong which concluded with the former seven-time Tour de France champion being stripped of his titles.

The article has been translated in full on the Tour de José blog and makes for compelling reading. For a start, we learn that it's not the first time that the staff at USADA have had their lives threatened. Asked why the USADA offices are so secure and whether the staff are paranoid, Tygart responds, "Since the BALCO case everything changed. We received death threats for the first time. Two for Terry Madden, my predecessor and a bit later one for me and my family when the Landis confessions came out. My office is now inaccessible to visitors. The blinds are down and the cameras are on 24/7." He goes on to say that three more death threats, all from individuals, were received during the Armstrong investigation.

Armstrong was stripped of his titles after deciding not to go to arbitration to answer USADA's case against him back in August; the Texan denounced the process as an "uncostitutional witch hunt". At the time, Tygart said that "It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes. This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition."

Tygart is obviously very aware that the work of USADA has polarised opinion in the United States, but is adamant that due process should be carried out, whatever the target of the investigation. "I have no other choice than follow the procedures in Armstrong’s case, just like for any other citizen." he says.  "We either bury this case or we do our job. I love this job and I know why I do it."

There's plenty of other nuggets in the interview too, which precedes the publication of USADA's case file on Armstrong, slated for the end of the year. l'Equipe's prologue to the interview states that the file will be "Thirty times" worse than anything previoulsy released in investigations and books, though whether that's their take or a quote from Tygart isn't clear. Certainly it seems that USADA's investigation had to proceed without any of the evidence from Jeff Novitzky's federal investigation which ran for two years but was abruptly ended in February. "Theoretically we should have received at least the grand jury testimonies," says Tygart, "but we got nothing."

One thing that's been missing up until now in investigations regarding Armstrong is any documentary, test-based evidence of doping to back up the mounting testimonials. However, when asked whether he had received technical documents regarding six positive EPO samples from 1999, Tygart responds, " Absolutely. It’s huge proof. A confirmation of his guilt. But it’s the proof and the testimonies together that form the proof of his foul play." Tygart also confirmed that he had spoken to Armstrong twice. "It was all very formal," he reveals. "I offered to find a solution, to cooperate. If he had accepted the offer, he wouldn’t have lost his seven Tour de France titles because we would have taken his cooperation into consideration. But the next day he attacked us and the constitutionality of our investigation."

You can read the full transcript of the interview on the Tour de José blog

16 user comments

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One thing that's been missing up until now in investigations regarding Armstrong is any documentary, test-based evidence of doping to back up the mounting testimonials.

What about the '99 positive result for corticosteroids in that year's Tour de France? What about the positive results for EPO in 6 samples which were from the '99 tour, discovered as part of EPO test research done in '04? That's been public knowledge since L'Equipe published about it in '05! (Those '04 research results were anonymous - at least, the lab only had sample numbers, but L'Equipe later asked UCI for the doping paperwork which recorded which riders gave which samples). What about the '01 Tour de Suisse EPO test which the head of that lab, Saugy, says was a "suspicious result"? (Unfortunately, the EPO test was still in its infancy). Landis and now Hamilton say that Armstrong said that UCI covered up that result, and Saugy has confirmed his lab informed UCI, that he spoke to UCI officials, and that later Armstrong and Bruyneel had a meeting with him at the lab.

To say that there's been no test-based evidence to date suggests the reporter has overlooked some of the biggest stories in the Armstrong saga! Smile

PS: The 6 positives in '99 which Tygart refers to must surely be the same 6 positives found in '04 and connected to Armstrong in '05 by L'Equipe.

posted by Paul J [599 posts]
25th September 2012 - 11:31

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I love the 'thirty times' worse quote. Who measures it - and how I wonder? As an old cynic I can only imagine the facts on Armstrong to be 25% worse that the current rumours. . Maybe he's an international war criminal, strangled kittens for kicks on the team bus, and is a close personal friend of Chris Moyles?? Even such sick revelations as that would only take me up to 50%. Thinking

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1058 posts]
25th September 2012 - 14:07

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Paul J wrote:

To say that there's been no test-based evidence to date suggests the reporter has overlooked some of the biggest stories in the Armstrong saga! Smile

what i said was that investigations have lacked documentary evidence. a story by a newspaper is not really an investigation, detailed though some of the allegations have been. however, this investigation looks like it might tie some of those threads together.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
25th September 2012 - 14:35

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Dave,

The 6 positives were not a story by a newspaper. They are acknowledged results from a WADA accredited lab, and official UCI paperwork. There is extensive documentation from WADA and UCI on these tests. WADA, the lab that did the testing, and other scientists involved in anti-doping such as Dr Michael Ashenden vouch for the validity of the analytical results, while the UCI has acknowledged the validity of the paperwork that connects the positive samples to Armstrong.

There was a lot of back and forth between WADA and UCI over whether Armstrong should be sanctioned. Much to WADAs public chagrin, with Dick Pound becoming publically critical of UCIs' anti-doping efforts, UCI were very reluctant to do anything about these positives. In the main Verbruggen's UCI reacted by questioning the motives of anyone involved in the allegations (L'Equipe, WADA). The UCI did commission a lawyer to write a report for them on the Armstrong '04 EPO positives. WADAs' response to it is informative: http://www.wada-ama.org/rtecontent/document/wada_official_statement_vrijman_report.pdf. UCI even sued Dick Pound.

L'Equipe joined the dots and broke the story, but the story is about serious analytical research work done by scientists working on EPO testing. To say this was just a newspaper investigation is somewhat odd - you could dismiss anything that way, just cause a newspaper reports on it!

posted by Paul J [599 posts]
25th September 2012 - 15:21

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Paul J wrote:

L'Equipe joined the dots and broke the story, but the story is about serious analytical research work done by scientists working on EPO testing. To say this was just a newspaper investigation is somewhat odd - you could dismiss anything that way, just cause a newspaper reports on it!

that's not really what i'm saying, and i don't think your last point bears scrutiny; as the report you linked to outlines, it was l'Equipe who linked the positives, which were in essence a research project, to Armstrong. The UCI and WADA fell out about whether to investigate and whose mandate it was, in part due to the way in which the information came to light; the research may have been serious and analytical, but it wasn't conducted with the aim of catching anyone in particular. Things got a bit messy, as you say.

As I think Tygart makes clear, there's no confusion regarding the test results and the evidence as far as USADA are concerned, and a clear mandate to investigate, not clouded by the manner in which the evidence appeared. That's what has been missing from previous investigations, and that was my point; sorry if it wasn't clear and I wasn't belittling the research.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7317 posts]
25th September 2012 - 16:07

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Paul; have a look at this, and other articles on 53x12.com. http://www.53x12.com/do/show?page=article&id=119 It puts the other side of the story, from, admittedly the person who supposedly doped Lance. Also Cortico-steroids are banned, but why? They sound a bit like Anabolic-steroids but are not performance enhancing. The science is complex as the article above illustrates; I want to see Lance hung out to dry as much as you seem to, but I also want to see justice done and I would like to know how he passed so many tests despite being doped. If this secret dossier is so clear and compelling then why not just publish it?

posted by SideBurn [787 posts]
25th September 2012 - 16:07

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SideBurn: Cortico-steroids cover a wide family of chemicals, with many potent effects. Effects such as weight loss, reduction of inflammation. These certainly can contribute towards performance and endurance. Further, there are many side-effects, particuarly with chronic abuse - and it is that which the riders are being protected from. Also, I would be just a little sceptical with any advice on the effects of drugs from a man who is famous for having said EPO was as safe as water. Finally, that link is Ferrari trying to rebut a blog on detecting autologous transfusions. It has nothing to do with the r-EPO test, or the '04 results on Armstrong.

Dave: Yes, there were lots of quibbles and reasons why the '04 results from the '99 samples could not be used by UCI to sanction Armstrong. Note that /some/ of those reasons have in fact been dealt with through revisions to the WADA Code. E.g. retrospective testing is definitely, 100% allowed now.

That the UCI found a multitude of procedural and (bizarely) motivational reasons why they couldn't use the results to sanction Armstrong does not detract from the fact that all the scientists stand by the validity of them, and that the UCI paperwork connecting them to Armstrong is not disputed by UCI.

And, again, it sounds from this story like these same results are (at last) getting used in a case against Armstrong!

Edit: Dave, I didn't read your last comment in full. Glad we're actually mostly in agreement. Wink

posted by Paul J [599 posts]
25th September 2012 - 18:29

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Paul I know exactly what cortico-steroids are and what they do. If you read the British Journal of Sports Medicine there are articles both for and against banning cortico-steroids; suggesting their performance enhancing effects/side effects are dubious. Furthermore you can take them if they are prescribed. The point of reading the article is to show that the science involved in did he or didn't he blood dope is extremely complex.

posted by SideBurn [787 posts]
25th September 2012 - 20:40

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SideBurn: Have any particular articles in mind on cortico-steroids and doping? Be as interested as you in informing myself further.

Regarding being allowed to take them, yes indeed they can. IF they are for a "documented medical condition" AND the rider applies for a therapeutic use exemption in advance, in accordance the regs of their governing body (WADA Code art 4.4).

I've read suggestions that a large proportion of the pro peloton have TUEs for bronchial dilutors such as salbutamol - a larger proportion than in the general population (though, TUEs are no longer needed below a certain level anymore, since 2010). I havn't found an authorative source for this claim yet though, so be sceptical of it. Kind of weird to think asthma sufferers could be over-represented in elite sport if it's true, either that or some number of them are abusing the TUE system. Indeed, the TUE system seems generally ripe for abuse, particularly when the prescribing doctors can be employed/retained by the team or rider concerned. Reading the likes of the CyclingNews clinic forum, it seems not all elite riders are completely happy with TUEs.

Re blood doping, havn't read up much on haemotology myself to be honest, but yeah, it does seem to be very hard to reliably detect, doesn't it. The biological passport at the moment basically comes down to a panel of 3 odd experts coming up with a somewhat subjective opinion and reconciling them into a finding. To me it sounds like the biological passport could do with more data (particularly from elite athletes) and application of statistical analysis, to determine more rigorously what is and what is not normal. Be interesting to see how it develops. Dr. Michael Ashenden resigned from the biological passport programme because he was disappointed with it (not sure he fully explained why).

It's an interesting and constantly evolving subject, isn't it? Both in terms of the morals, enforcement, the abuse and the science of detection.

posted by Paul J [599 posts]
25th September 2012 - 21:26

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These are links to the articles for and against in the British Journal of Sport Medicine; December 2008. You can view an extract free online but the journal is pay to view. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/42/12/944.extract and http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/42/12/946.extract As you say it's complicated!

posted by SideBurn [787 posts]
26th September 2012 - 10:15

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As for the prevalence of asthma in Olympic athletes http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/46/6/413.abstract?sid=dc03353f-d7f5-42c4-840...

posted by SideBurn [787 posts]
26th September 2012 - 10:24

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Why is USADA delaying publishing? If they have information that is 30x worse than that already released, why wait?

I'm even more convinced that this was a witch hunt against Lance and that it will backfire against the USADA when the UCI tells them to get lost.

It seems odd that USADA are mentioning death threats now. I think they are milking the publicity for all it's worth and will no doubt look for "a good day to bury bad news".

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [279 posts]
26th September 2012 - 23:34

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It just dawned on me "the end of the year" probably means during the Christmas holidays when there's hardly any news coverage. It's so bad round Christmas for news I've even been on TV then!

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [279 posts]
26th September 2012 - 23:38

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Why is USADA delaying publishing? If they have information that is 30x worse than that already released, why wait?

Well, there are these cases against other people that need to be heard and perhaps dumping all the evidence out in public before that might compromise the case both for and against these people? It's not just about Lance.

I'm even more convinced that this was a witch hunt against Lance and that it will backfire against the USADA when the UCI tells them to get lost.

Out of interest, did you think the BALCO investigations were a witch hunt too? Do you think Ferrari, Johan and the others are also victims of a witch hunt (especially as at least one of those will lose his livelihood if found against) or is it just because you're a Lance fan that you feel he's been singled out?

posted by atlaz [154 posts]
27th September 2012 - 8:16

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Atlaz - you are assuming that the US is the same as the UK. I believe that contempt of court is much weaker in the US so that anything published isn't considered as prejudicial to a fair trial. Contrast that to how easy it is to be convicted of contempt of court in the UK. I recall two DJs who went to court for contempt after commenting on the evidence in a case. I'm being deliberately vague here!

Also, if it really were the case that USADA were held up by other cases there is no way they could give a definite time for publishing.

I still don't think I'd have Lance as a friend though, he's just too arrogant. I could not handle that. I'm only a fan of his because of his achievements, not his personality. I do not know of another sportsman who has been part of an investigation that goes back 13 years and probably further. If I'm wrong about that, I'd like a counter-example.

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [279 posts]
27th September 2012 - 10:32

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Maybe not 13 years but Barry Bonds did 8 years from becoming under formal investigation but I'm aware people talked about steroid taking from the late 90s onwards so probably close to 13 years of it for him.

posted by atlaz [154 posts]
27th September 2012 - 13:40

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