Former UCI president Hein Verbruggen has issued a statement in which he angrily refutes claims that he believes there is no evidence against Lance Armstrong. However, the Dutchman stops well short of saying that he believes that the United States Anti Doping Agency has established that the disgraced cyclist is guilty of the charges made against him.
An article published in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf this morning stated that the 71-year-old had said that Armstrong had never tested positive, “not even by USADA,” and that “there is therefore no trace of evidence.”
In a statement issued this morning through the UCI, Verbruggen said: “I vehemently protest against the article in De Telegraaf of Thursday morning by Raymond Kerckhoffs and Hans Ruggenberg. That article wrongly suggests that I would have stated that notwithstanding the USADA file there is no evidence against Lance Armstrong. I made no statement at all on this subject. The heading above the article [‘Geen bewijs tegen Armstrong’ – ‘No evidence against Armstrong’] is absolutely wrong and misleading.
“While giving the impression that it is about a complete interview I simply sent some sms [text messages] to these two gentlemen giving a reaction on Ms Lemond’s statement that a sum of money had been paid in order to cover up a positive test of Lance Armstrong.”
It was reported earlier this week that Greg LeMond’s wife Kathy had claimed in a 2006 deposition in the SCA Promotions case that Armstrong’s then sponsor Nike had paid Verbruggen $500,000 relating to the cover-up of a doping control that Armstrong had failed in 1999. Nike, which terminated its sponsorship of Armstrong yesterday, denies the allegation.
“My reaction was strictly limited to the fact that Lance Armstrong was never found positive by the anti-doping laboratories, that there was no positive test and that there was nothing to be covered up," continued Verbruggen.
“I completely distance myself from the article in De Telegraaf and in any other medium that would use it.”
USADA’s Reasoned Decision in the Armstrong case does however outline a positive test for a banned corticosteroid during the 1999 Tour de France that the agency says he was able to head off by producing a backdated and wholly bogus prescription for a saddle sore cream said to contain the substance.
That prescription was signed by US Postal Service team doctor Luis Garcia Del Moral, banned for life earlier this year by USADA after he chose not to contest its charges.
USADA's dossier also includes testimony from Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, as well as from a doctor working at a drug-testing laboratory in Lausanne, regarding a “suspect” test by Armstrong for EPO during the 2001 Tour de Suisse, one that would be considered a positive test under current rules.
It is claimed that Bruyneel and Armstrong visited the UCI to persuade it to take the investigation of the sample no further, coinciding with the cyclist promising to make a $100,000 donation to the UCI, which he eventually paid in 2005.
Earlier this week, blood doping expert Dr Michael Ashenden, who helped devise and run the UCI’s biological passport until April this year, said that it would be “sinister” if the governing body had accepted Armstrong’s payment while suspecting him of having doped.
"For the honorary president of the UCI to say he [Armstrong] hadn't doped, in the face of everything, I really have to question what his motives were to say that. I find that absolutely flabbergasting," Dr Ashenden told BBC Radio 5 Live on Monday.
Even if the UCI were to be given the benefit of the doubt that they had no such suspicions in 2002 when the offer of that donation were made, in 2005 when they reminded him that he hadn’t paid there were enough widespread and detailed allegations in circulation to suggest that taking his money might not be the wisest option.
Current UCI president Pat McQuaid has since said that it would think carefully about ever accepting another donation from a rider.
Today’s statement stops well short of Verbruggen, who remains honorary life president of the UCI, saying he accepts that Armstrong is guilty of the charges that have led to USADA imposing a life ban on him and stripping the Texan of results including his seven Tour de France victories.
Last year, reacting to Tyler Hamilton’s claim that the UCI had conspired with Armstrong to cover up that 2001 test in the Tour de Suisse, Verbruggen said: "There is nothing. Lance Armstrong has never used doping. Never, never, never. I say this not because I am a friend of his, because that is not true. I say it because I'm sure."
However, in a book presented to Verbruggen when his tenure as president of the UCI ended in 2005, the cyclist described him as “a great friend,” signing off by saying, “thanks for everything."
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.