Lance Armstrong says Hein Verbruggen helped cover up positive test
Drug cheat accuses ex-UCI president - and also meets with ex-masseuse, Emma O'Reilly
Lance Armstrong has said that former UCI president Hein Verbruggen helped devise the plan to produce a backdated – and bogus – prescription for a saddle sore cream after the American cyclist tested positive for a corticosteroid during the 1999 Tour de France.
It’s the first time that the former US Postal Service rider, who won that year’s edition of the race, has publicly stated that the senior UCI staff were involved in helping him cover up his doping, something he, and Verbruggen, have vehemently denied in the past.
The 1999 Tour marked Armstrong’s return to the race following his recovery from cancer, and would finish with him taking the first of the seven successive victories in the race that he was eventually stripped of last year.
Amstrong’s win – and the back story he brought of the cancer survivor who won what many consider to be the world’s toughest sporting event – was a feel-good story for a sport looking to recover from the Festina affair that had overshadowed the 1998 edition of the race.
Because of that, Armstrong’s positive test for a banned corticosteroid threatened to wreak further damage on the image of the sport.
“The real problem was, the sport was on life support,” he told the Daily Mail in an interview published today.
“Hein just said, ‘This is a real problem for me, this is the knockout punch for our sport, so we’ve got to come up with something’.”
Team doctor Luis Garcia del Moral signed a backdated prescription for a saddle sore cream containing the banned substance, which was accepted apparently without question by the UCI.
When Armstrong finally confessed to doping in an interview with TV chat show host Oprah Winfrey in January this year, he insisted that the UCI had never helped him cover up a positive test.
Responding to that interview, Pat McQuaid, who succeeded Verbruggen as UCI president in 2005, said it proved there was “no collusion or conspiracy” between Armstrong and world cycling’s governing body.
Armstrong’s claim that it was Verbruggen who helped him come up with the plan to attribute his positive test to a saddle sore cream will also raise questions over whether the UCI helped him cover up a suspect test for EPO taken during the 2001 Tour de Suisse.
The following year, the cyclist agreed to donate $125,000 to the UCI, something that the United States Anti-Doping Agency in its reasoned decision in the Armstrong case said was linked to a cover-up of that suspect test.
Armstrong went on: "To think I am protecting these guys after the way they treated me, tha is ludicrous. I'm not protecting them at all. I have no loyalty towards them.
"I'm not going to lie to protect these guys. I hate them. They threw me under the bus. I'm done with them."
Earlier this month, Verbruggen, who had served as UCI honorary president after being succeeded by McQuaid, wrote to the heads of national cycling federations to say he was stepping down from that position.
In his letter, he said: “'I have never acted inappropriately and my conscience is absolutely clean. With the benefit of hindsight, however, I admit that I could have done some things differently, but I do not accept that my integrity is in doubt.”
The interview with the Daily Mail comes a week after Armstrong gave the BBC his first broadcast interview following his confession earlier this year, and is being viewed in some quarters as part of a carefully planned media campaign tying in with several ongoing court cases in the United States.
It is also seen as being linked to his potential co-operation with the commission of inquiry that Brian Cookson, elected UCI president in September, is setting up to examine the sport’s history of doping including whether officials at the governing body were guilty of wrongdoing.
The Daily Mail also organised a meeting in a bar in Miami between Armstrong and his former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, who was one of the first to point the finger at him for doping, resulting in him calling her a “prostitute” and an “alcoholic whore.”
Armstrong told the newspaper: "I never expected to see Emma. I wanted to talk to her. I felt it was necessary to have a conversation because there were definitely people that got caught up in this story who deserved an apology from me.
"When I reached out in January it was to talk. Emma, I appreciate, wasn't ready for that. But it's good that, tonight, we are doing this in person.
"At the time, when I said what I said about her, I was fighting to protect a lot of positions. But it was inexcusable. It's embarrassing.
"I was in a conference room, giving a legal deposition, and I had no idea it was going to get out. But that doesn't excuse it.
“I guess you should always assume that, in that setting, the whole world will watch it the next day. It was totally humiliating for Emma. And if I saw my son do that, there would be a f*cking war in our house."
Reflecting on the meeting, O’Reilly said: "I was thinking, he never actually used the word sorry. But I wasn't looking for an insincere apology. There are different ways of saying sorry and I felt what he did say was genuine.
"Now people might think I'm under Lance's spell but I'm not. I wasn't when I said what I did about him in 2004 and I'm not now. He was a jerk. He was a bully.
"But there are wider issues here and I wanted to address those, too. That said, I wanted closure with him and today I feel I have it. This part, for me, is over."