Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), says Lance Armstrong could yet play a crucial role in revealing the role the UCI is believed to have played in helping cover up the cheating that brought the cyclist seven Tour de France victories and a multimillion-dollar fortune. The UCI, however, has strongly rejected his claims of collusion and appears to claim credit for bringing Armstrong to justice by catching riders doping who would later provide key testimony against him.
Those witnesses the UCI refers to are Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton - whose allegations against Armstrong were condemned as being false by the governing body when they first made them and who were described as "scumbags" by UCI president Pat McQuaid when he announced the UCI had endorsed USADA's decision in the Armstrong case. T
he UCI also criticises USADA for fialing to catch Armstrong, even though it was the latter whose pursuit of the cyclist led to charges being brought against him, and ultimately his confession.
Tygart, who led the investigation that resulted in Armstrong being banned from sport for life and stripped of results including the seven Tour de France titles he won between 1999 and 2005, was giving evidence today at the French Senate’s Commission of Inquiry into the Effectiveness of the Fight against Doping.
He maintained he has "evidence of the UCI's involvement in this affair," with Armstrong in a position to reveal just how deeply the worldwide governing body’s role went.
USADA’s Reasoned Decision in the Armstrong case highlights several instances in which it believes the UCI was complicit in helping him cover up his doping.
Those include accepting a backdated prescription for a saddle sore cream to explain a positive test for a corticosteroid during the 1999 Tour de France, and that donations he made to the UCI, which the governing body has admitted receiving, were connected to a suspect test for EPO during the 2001 Tour de Suisse.
UCI president Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen, who remains honorary president, insist that the governing body has done nothing wrong.
Following Armstrong’s confession of doping to Oprah Winfrey earlier this year, he spoke to USADA about making a formal confession, but the talks broke down after it became clear the former cyclist would not admit to doping after his return to the sport in 2009, widely thought to be due to potential legal ramifications.
After giving his evidence to the Senate, Tygart told Associated Press: "Armstrong led us to believe — during the course of our interaction with him — that he had evidence of their complicity in this situation, and of course we've developed additional information that will come out through our process, that I can't comment on right now.
"We're hopeful at some point he'll come in and be truthful,” he continued. “I think he could provide a lot of information.
"We certainly are under the impression based on our conversations around our meeting back in December that he has information and evidence that would be extremely helpful and powerful in trying to set cycling on a new path."
After years of denials, Armstrong finally confessed to doping during an interview with Oprah Winfrey in January. Tygart thinks there is still much more to come and Armstrong has crucial information to share.”
Tygart said that USADA firmly believed Armstrong has further information that he could provide, adding, “Obviously I wouldn't say that unless I had backing to say it. We're convinced."
He also said he hoped that despite its scrapping of the Independent Commission it had set up to examine its role in the Armstrong scandal, the UCI might yet formally investigate the extent of its dealings with him.
"We're hopeful that [the UCI] are going to take decisive action and we're fully prepared to participate in a meaningful process, not a setup, a self-scripted outcome, and if not through that, then it will be through the ongoing process that we're now involved with."
Today’s session lasted 90 minutes and was held in the Salle Clemenceau of the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris, which is home to the French Senate.
Coincidentally, the railings of the surrounding Jardin du Luxembourg are currently playing the site of an exhibition, sponsored by the Senate, of photographs of the 99 editions held to date of the Tour de France.
Video of Tygart’s evidence session should be made available on the relevant section of the Senate’s website in the coming days.
In a statement issued on Friday morning, a UCI spokesman said: “The fact is that Mr Tygart has no evidence of any wrongdoing and has chosen to make headlines on a convenient interpretation of a conversation he had with Lance Armstrong.
“He should establish the facts before jumping to conclusions. The UCI welcomes any assistance and clarification that Lance Armstrong may wish to give Mr Tygart on the matter.
“It’s all very well Mr Tygart talking about cooperation, but let’s not forget that the Independent Commission was only disbanded because of USADA’s and WADA’s point-blank refusal to cooperate with it. Simply, the UCI was left with no choice but to close it down; it made no sense to go forward without the participation of these two bodies.
“One can only assume that their [USADA's] refusal to cooperate with the Independent Commission was due to their fear that their own shortcomings would be exposed. After all, USADA and WADA also tested Armstrong over many years and also failed to catch him. It was only with the benefit of the US Federal Investigation that USADA was finally able to gain evidence of Armstrong’s doping.
“No attempt by Travis Tygart to rewrite history will change the fact that USADA failed to catch Lance Armstrong having tested him just 49 times during his career. The UCI by comparison tested Armstrong 189 times.”
“As Mr Tygart himself admitted Thursday in other media reports, it was the UCI in its campaign against doping, not WADA or USADA, which caught Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. And it was the UCI catching these two high-profile riders which ended up with them confessing and so enabled the investigation to move against Armstrong,” the spokesman added.
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.