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Lance: Cycling chiefs helped me dope

ESPN staff
November 18, 2013 « English cruises to OHL Classic at Mayakoba title | Chartbeat test »
Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during all of his seven Tour de France wins © PA Photos
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Lance Armstrong has claimed that former UCI chief Hein Verbruggen helped him orchestrate a plan to cover up a positive test at the 1999 Tour de France, where he went on to claim the first of his seven titles, in explosive revelations to the Daily Mail.

Armstrong, stripped of his Tour wins by the United States Anti-Doping Agency last year for masterminding "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen" and handed a lifetime ban, said the ex-head of world cycling knew all about his doping and encouraged him to keep it secret.

"To think I am protecting any of these guys after the way they treated me, that is ludicrous," Armstrong told the Daily Mail. "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."

Armstrong provided the UCI with a backdated prescription for saddle sore after the cortisone positive, and insists Verbruggen felt he had no choice but to protect him, if only to protect the race itself which had been dubbed the 'Tour of Renewal' in the wake of the 1998 Festina affair.

Just days before the 1998 Tour, a soigneur of the Festina team was stopped by customs officers at the French border with a large haul of doping products in his car boot, prompting a crackdown from French police including hotel raids as several teams withdrew. The investigation that followed revealed systematic doping in the sport.

"The real point is that the sport was on life support and Hein just said this is your problem, I mean this is the knockout punch for our sport," Armstrong added.

"A year after Festina and he just said we gotta come up with something. So we just…we backdated the prescription."

Verbruggen - who has served as an honorary president at the UCI since 2008 - declined to comment on the allegations. Earlier this month he sent a letter to national cycling federations reiterating he was not complicit in covering up positive doping tests.

"I have never acted inappropriately and my conscience is absolutely clean" he said. "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."

Armstrong also told the Daily Mail that controversial Dr Michele Ferrari had warned him the UCI had developed a test for EPO in 2000. Ferrari was a key figure in the U.S. Postal team's doping programme, with USADA's Reasoned Decision against Armstrong revealing he paid the Italian more than $1 million from 1996-2006.

"This has probably never been heard by anybody but in 2000 [Ferrari] said they're [the UCI] close on this test, just one transfusion. So we do that," Armstrong added.

"We all assumed it was going to be business as usual but Michele said 'No EPO'. We continued to use some after that but not in the same way and not as much."

New UCI president Brian Cookson last week announced the formation of an inquiry in conjunction with the World Anti-Doping Agency aimed at investigating cycling's drug-stained past, with Armstrong to be invited to testify. Cookson had said: "What I am really interested in, I have to say, is the allegations he has apparently made ... about the way in which he was given special treatment by the UCI. If that was true, I'd like to know about it."

Armstrong is seeking a reduction in his ban in return for his co-operation, and is targeting becoming world champion at Ironman.

"My performances in the races leading up to the ban told me that. And I think there is some merit in saying this is what you can do clean," said Armstrong. "I am a competitor. If there was a race tomorrow and they said you can go do it, I'd be there."

Armstrong was speaking to the Daily Mail at a first meeting with Emma O'Reilly, the former U.S. Postal soigneur, in 13 years. O'Reilly had been fired and publicly discredited as an "alcoholic whore" by Armstrong after telling Sunday Times journalist David Walsh she had seen US Postal provide the UCI with the backdated prescription.

"I never expected to see Emma," Armstrong said. "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 we are [now] doing this in person.

"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***ing war in our house."

O'Reilly told the Daily Mail: "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."

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