Less the smoking gun that many expected and more a nuclear explosion, the fallout from which will continue for months, years, to come. That’s the initial impression given by USADA’s publication this evening of its full reasoned decision plus supporting documents in the Lance Armstrong case on its website.
It also shatters the myth that many Armstrong supporters continued to cling to, that the agency's evidence was based on "hearsay," backed by statements from a handful of self-confessed dopers.
The material USADA has made public damns not only Armstrong, but many others active in the sport during what is now termed the "dark years," and who continue to be involved in it. It's not an exaggeration to say that after today, none of us will view the sport in the same way ever again.
The sheer volume of evidence, and the minute detail it goes into, is astonishing and there is little chance of making sense of the whole so soon after its publication on USADA’s website, apparently brought forward due to the main document being leaked on the internet while still under embargo.
We’ll be analysing the contents and their implications more fully in the days ahead, but for now, here are some key points that emerge:
Armstrong was invited to meet with USADA prior to his being charged. He declined that offer, “setting in motion the sequence of event that led to USADA’s charges and ultimately [his] sanction.”
USADA says “the achievements of USPS/Discovery Channel… including those of Lance Armstrong as its leader, were accomplished through a massive doping conspiracy… Armstrong’s career on USPS/Discovery Channel… was fuelled from start to finish by doping.”
For reasons of transparency, USADA has discussed its evidence “in significant detail, just as an arbitration panel would have done had Mr Amstrong been willing to allow the evidence in his case to be heard by independent arbitrators.”
It’s worth pointing out that had Armstrong elected to go to arbitration, he would have had to allow the retesting of suspect samples or accept USADA’s findings on those issues; as it is, he can continue to protest that incorrect testing protocols were used, or that the samples were just suspect, and not hard evidence of doping. Such protestations now have an increasingly hollow ring.
Witness testimony from a number of former USPS riders including George Hincapie and Jonathan Vaughters asserts that Armstrong was openly using EPO and cortisone from the time he joined the team following his return to the sport in 1998 after beating cancer.
Following the arrival of Johan Bruyneel and Dr Luis Garcia Del Moral from ONCE in 1999, doping is alleged to have been systemic at USPS in pursuit of the sole ambition of winning the Tour de France. Dr Michele Ferrari, who had been working with Armstrong for several years, was closely involved in team training camps. By now, it is said that a system was in place to ensure distribution of EPO to riders.
USADA has witness statements asserting that Armstrong was able to escape sanction in repect of a positive test for cortisone on the 1999 Tour de France only because of a backdated prescription from Del Moral for a saddle sore cream containing the substance. Witnesses state that the saddle sore cream story was a fabrication and that the presence of cortisone was due to an injection.
The agency say that by the 2000 season, doping at USPS had gone beyond the use of EPO and testosterone and now also encompassed blood doping at Bruyneel’s instigation.
During the same season, Armstrong allegedly abandoned a race in Spain after Hincapie, who says in his affidavit that he knew that his team leader had just taken testosterone, texted him to warn him that drug testing personnel had arrived at the team hotel. By the year end, Hincapie, like other team mates, would have been invited to work with Ferrari in exchange for a substantial slice of his annual income.
By now, Armstrong had become the biggest story in sport; the man who had beaten seemingly terminal cancer and come back to win possibly the toughest event in any sport. True, uncomfortable questions were already being asked, but at that point, the doubters were a tiny minority.
However, USADA’s documentation reveals how year after depressing year, as the myth of Armstrong was being carefully nurtured, the doping programme at USPS was being carefully nurtured.
Its evidence for that isn’t from a handful of jealous rivals or former team mates who had lied under oath about their own drug use – yes, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis are among the witnesses, but they are heavily outnumbered by riders who, before opening up to USADA, had unblemished reputations.
In painstaking detail, USADA catalogues the allegations made against Armstrong by a succession of those who provided it with detailed affidavits; the training with Ferrari, the team’s systematic approach to doping, the clandestine transfusions in hotel rooms, the evasion of drugs testers. The attention to detail is immaculate, each assertion carefully footnoted with a direction to the affidavit where it is made.
Revelations in the reasoned decision and its supporting documentation range from the truly mundane to the absolutely shocking.
An example of the former lies in a trip by Armstrong to Italy to meet with Dr Michele Ferrari being identified because his then wife Kristin, who accompanied him, asked Betsy Andreu, wife of US Postal rider Frankie Andreu, if she “would make some risotto if the Armstrongs brought the ingredients from Italy.”
An illustration of the latter is the allegation by former US Postal rider Jonathan Vaughters that Armstrong had told him that he blamed the UCI for the extent of the cancer that nearly killed him, because its doping controls had not picked up high levels of HCG in his system when the disease was at its early stage.
Vaughters claims that Armstrong told him: “If I ever have a doping problem, I have this card to play.”
As it turned out, Armstrong folded his cards the moment a US district court judge ruled that USADA did have jurisdiction in the case.
Whatever his protestations that he was the victim of a witch hunt, and that USADA lacked powers to sanction him, the body of evidence made public by the agency today leaves one with the overriding impression that Armstrong knew his opponent had been dealt an unbeatable hand.