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Verbruggen backtracks on Armstrong claims

ESPN staff
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Lance Armstrong failed a doping test at the start of the 1999 Tour de France but was let off after producing a TUE © PA Photos
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Former UCI president Hein Verbruggen has conceded that he "might" have spoken to Lance Armstrong after the disgraced former cyclist failed a doping test at the 1999 Tour de France.

Speaking to the Daily Mail on Monday, Armstrong alleged that Verbruggen told him to "come up with something" after he tested positive for cortisone.

The US Postal team produced a retrospective Therapeutic Use Exemption form for saddle-sore cream that was accepted by the authorities, and Armstrong went on to win his first of seven yellow jerseys, all of which have now been wiped from the record books.

Armstrong claimed that Verbruggen was desperate to avoid a doping scandal a year after the Festina affair blighted the 1998 Tour.

"The real problem was, the sport was on life support," said Armstrong. "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.'"

Verbruggen, who was president of the UCI from 1991 to 2005 and remains the governing body's honorary president, initially branded the revelation "illogical," adding: "since when did anyone believe Lance Armstrong?"

On Tuesday, Verbruggen's stance changed. The 72-year-old Dutchman now admits a conversation may have taken place after Armstrong's win in the prologue time trial ahead of the 1999 Tour.

"I might have told him that the UCI needs a prescription but I am sure that was handled by our anti-doping department, not me," Verbruggen told the Associated Press. "According to our rules, it [the prescription] could be done afterwards."

The UCI's anti-doping rules in 1999 stated that TUEs must be declared prior to testing - but that inaccuracy notwithstanding, the communication between the head of an international sporting body and an athlete under investigation for doping raises questions about both his leadership and a potential breach of protocol.

In spite of the allegations, Verbruggen insists he is willing to take part in any future truth and reconciliation process designed to eradicate doping from the sport.

"I have never been afraid of any investigation commission," said Verbruggen. "I will participate in everything and I will be never be found [guilty of] anything."

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