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Report: 'Army of enablers' assisted Armstrong's doping

Joe McGowan/Flickr Lance Armstrong in 2009

Timeline

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven straight times, but the cyclist has been linked repeatedly to banned drugs. 

1971

Lance Armstrong is born in Plano, Texas. A professional triathlete as a teen, he later turns to cycling.

1992-96 

He competes for the United States in two Olympics and wins the International Cycling Union Road World Championship in Norway in 1993. Ill, he drops out of the 1996 Tour de France.

1996-97

Armstrong is diagnosed with stage 3 metastatic testicular cancer. He undergoes surgery and chemotherapy and founds the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer patients. With his cancer in remission, he resumes training.

1999

Racing for the U.S. Postal Service team, Armstrong claims the first of an unprecedented seven straight victories in the Tour de France. A tour drug test shows small amounts of a banned corticosteroid, but he produces a prescription for a steroid-based skin cream. After that, he passes more than 200 drug tests.

2000

A French TV reporter retrieves packaging for an injectable blood-doping drug from the USPS Tour de France team. The team says the drug was used to treat abrasions. Doping authorities don’t act, and French police drop their probe.

2001

U.S. cycling legend Greg LeMond criticizes Armstrong for working with Michele Ferrari, a controversial sports doctor later banned for doping cyclists. Armstrong defends Ferrari. 

2004

“L.A. Confidentiel,” an exposé book published in France, claims Armstrong used injectable drugs. Armstrong later wins a libel suit after a British newspaper reprints the book’s allegations.

2005

Armstrong wins his seventh Tour de France, setting the fastest pace in race history, and retires.

2005

French sports newspaper L’Equipe reports that retests of urine samples show Armstrong was using the blood-doping drug EPO on the 1999 Tour de France. He blames a World Anti-Doping Agency “vendetta.” The International Cycling Union clears Armstrong, saying the retests were conducted improperly.

2006

Cycling teammate Frankie Andreu testifies that before Armstrong’s cancer surgery in 1996, Armstrong told his doctor he had used steroids and EPO. The doctor disputes that account.

2009

Armstrong returns from retirement and places third in the Tour de France.

2010

U.S. cycling star Floyd Landis, previously suspended for steroid use, tells officials that Armstrong had used EPO in 2002 and 2003. Earlier, Landis had said he “never saw anything” to indicate Armstrong was doping. 

2010

U.S. Food and Drug Administration agent Jeff Novitzky, lead investigator on the BALCO sports steroids case, begins a probe of Armstrong and the USPS cycling team.

2011

Armstrong retires again. U.S. cyclist Tyler Hamilton, suspended for banned drugs, tells “60 Minutes” that he and Armstrong used EPO before Tour de France victories in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Hamilton says he had testified before a U.S. grand jury.

2012

A U.S. prosecutor drops the criminal probe, but Armstrong is accused by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of trafficking in banned drugs. Armstrong sues, claiming the anti-doping agency made “secret deals” to frame him. When the agency’s jurisdiction is upheld, Armstrong doesn’t contest the charges, calling the proceedings a “kangaroo court.” He is banned from professional cycling for life and stripped of his titles won since August 1998.

Sources: Federal court records, media accounts

Cycling superstar Lance Armstrong won seven straight victories in the Tour de France with the aid of an “army of enablers” who provided him with banned drugs and helped him cover up his misconduct, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency says.

An investigative report made public today claims that Armstrong became the dominant cyclist of his era through systematic use of performance enhancers: steroids, blood transfusions, human growth hormone and the blood doping drug EPO.

Over the course of his 16-year career, Armstrong lied repeatedly about his drug use, according to the report – the result of a two-year-long probe by the anti-doping agency.

Armstrong also bullied his fellow riders on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team to use banned drugs and required them to lie about rampant drug use in their sport, the report claims.

The agency said it based its searing portrayal of the cycling champion on the testimony of 15 professional cyclists – 11 of them from the USPS team, where Armstrong won most of his glory.

The report was studded with details of an alleged doping culture. Former team members recalled being told to fetch foil-covered steroid pills for their team leader. The team’s masseuse said she shopped for makeup to cover Armstrong’s needle marks.

By keeping silent about the apparent doping, masseuse Emma O’Reilly told investigators she “was no better than the directors, doctors and trainer who were actively running the doping programs.”

A team doctor provided cyclists with human growth hormone, the report alleged, and it said the team manager arranged a private jet flight to Spain before the 2000 Tour de Franceso that Armstrong and another cycling star, Tyler Hamilton, could obtain secret blood transfusions in a hotel room.

Armstrong, who retired in 2011, contends he never used banned drugs. His lawyer, Tim Herman, denounced the doping agency’s report todayas a “one-sided hatchet job,” saying it was created with “coerced testimony” from “axe-grinders (and) serial perjurers.” Herman said their stories had been “coerced.”

But in a statement, the agency’s chief executive, Travis Tygart, contended that the cyclists who implicated Armstrong had voluntarily told the truth after years of lying.

Other witnesses in the report include Santa Rosa’s Levi Leipheimer, who rides for the Omega Pharma–Quick-Step team; Canadian cyclist Michael Barry; and ex-racers Stephen Swart, George Hincapie and Frankie Andreu.

In 2006, Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified in arbitration proceedings that they heard Armstrong admit to using performance-enhancing drugs while undergoing cancer treatments.           

“Lance could not have done it on his own,” Betsy Andreu told California Watch. “This is a story that has to be told: the cover-up and how he got away with it.”

The report focuses largely how Armstrong came to create a “doping culture” on the USPS team.

The team, disbanded in 2005, obtained millions of dollars in sponsorship fees from the postal service. It was owned by Tailwind Sports, a San Francisco company established by financier Thomas Weisel, founder of the Montgomery Securities investment firm.

The report says the team was built around “a small army of enablers, including doping doctors, drug smugglers, and others within and outside the sport” who assisted Armstrong in obtaining drugs and avoiding detection.

Among the most important, the report contends, was Dr. Michele Ferrari, a controversial Italian physician and sports trainer with a reputation for keeping years ahead of cutting-edge doping tests.

In the final years of his career, Armstrong paid a company controlled by Ferrari more than $1 million, the report contends. In exchange, Ferrari devised a sophisticated doping regimen for the entire postal service team, the report says.

Cyclists faced firing if they didn’t follow Ferrari’s protocol, which called for using drugs and transfusions to alter the cyclists’ blood chemistry – and maximize performance.

Another alleged enabler was USPS team manager Johan Bruyneel, recruited by Armstrong from the Spanish team ONCE. The report says that team was infamous for its own illicit doping program.

Bruyneel allegedly devised a system of transporting drugs and blood bags to cyclists under the eyes of drug testers. It was Bruyneel, Hamilton testified, who helped arrange the private jet flight to Spain for transfusions. That occurred one month before the 2000 tour, which Armstrong went on to win.

Other alleged enablers included cyclists who said they were sometimes asked to fetch drugs, and employees such as O’Reilly, the former team masseuse. In testimony, USPS cyclists Hincapie and Jonathan Vaughters said they’d entrusted O’Reilly to carry banned drugs for them.

O’Reilly testified that Armstrong once asked her to buy cosmetics to conceal an arm bruise from a syringe. At another point, O’Reilly said Armstrong asked her to get rid of a bag of empty syringes. She said she assumed the cyclist had used the syringes during the Tour of the Netherlands, a multiday race, in 1998.

Armstrong retired from cycling in 2011. The anti-doping agency called for a lifetime ban in August, after Armstrong announced he would not contest doping charges filed against him.

First doping claims in 1999

Armstrong first was linked to doping after the 1999 Tour de France, when the French daily Le Monde unearthed blood tests that were positive for a steroid. But a team doctor’s note said Armstrong had used a prescribed cream for saddle sores, and he wasn’t sanctioned.

For the rest of Armstrong’s career, reports appeared regularly – in newspaper and broadcast exposés, tell-all books and public statements from fellow cyclists – claiming he used drugs.

Armstrong insisted he was drug-free, noting he had undergone hundreds of drug tests and never failed one. As he said in 2000, when a French television report sought to tie him to EPO: “I’ve never tested positive; I’ve never been caught with anything.”

He has been particularly aggressive in his comments about the anti-doping agency, calling it a “kangaroo court” that is seeking to frame him with false testimony. He complains he was targeted by the agency because he criticized it for allegedly railroading other accused athletes.

The agency’s probe began in 2010 when an agency official met with an associate of cycling star Floyd Landis to discuss suspected drug use on the USPS team, court records show.

Meanwhile, Food and Drug Administration agent Jeff Novitzky, who led the probe that ensnared San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds in the BALCO steroid scandal, was investigating suspected doping on a Los Angeles-based pro cycling team, the New York Daily News hasreported.

The federal investigation turned to Armstrong after Landis sent emails to cycling regulators detailing his own doping history and implicating Armstrong. Federal law enforcement officials spent 20 months following up on Landis’ leads before dropping the case without explanation in February.

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