Ex-UCI head says Landis was warned

LONDON -- Cycling's governing body warned Floyd Landis he could be sued for defamation weeks before he made allegations that it covered up a positive drug test by Lance Armstrong.

Former UCI president Hein Verbruggen told The Associated Press on Tuesday that a letter was sent to Landis by the UCI's lawyer two or three weeks before the American rider's allegations became public.

Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, claimed in e-mails to cycling officials and sponsors that Armstrong tested positive for EPO at the Tour de Suisse in 2002 and paid off Verbruggen to keep it quiet. Armstrong won the 2001 Swiss race, but did not compete there in 2002.

"Floyd Landis sent a message to the UCI that he was going to publish the things that he published," Verbruggen said in a telephone interview. "He said that we, the UCI, had put a test from Armstrong under the table.

"The lawyer of the UCI sent a letter back, not from me personally, but on behalf of the UCI, saying, 'We have to warn you: When you tell lies, you are liable, and we might sue you if you tell lies.' That was sent already two or three weeks before he published the whole thing."

UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani said the letter was sent in early May.

Verbruggen said he is "100 percent sure" that Armstrong never tested positive. The Dutch official added that he is ready to testify "under oath" that he has never covered up any positive test.

"Under my presidency, never -- ever -- has one case been put under the table," Verbruggen said. "Under oath, I don't have to swear that. I ask to declare that under oath."

After previous denials, Landis confessed last month to years of systematic doping. He alleged that Landis, a seven-time Tour de France champion, and other elite riders also had been involved in doping.

Armstrong has denied the allegations and said Landis "lost his credibility a long time ago."

Verbruggen questioned Landis' state of mind and said, "I feel a little bit sorry for the guy, frankly."

Verbruggen said no further letters had been sent by the UCI to Landis since the allegations came out. He said he personally had no plans to pursue the matter.

"I put Landis out of mind," he said. "I don't want to think about the guy. I don't know what the UCI is doing. I don't know whether they want to pursue this case."

Carpani had no comment on what action UCI might take.

In the meantime, Verbruggen said, the UCI had checked all EPO cases from 2001 through 2003 and found there were no positives from Armstrong.

"We have never had a positive case of Lance Armstrong," he said. "We've checked and checked and checked again, but we are absolutely positive about that."

Verbruggen also addressed Armstrong's financial donation to the UCI in 2002, an issue which has raised questions of conflict of interest.

Verbruggen said Armstrong's agent approached the UCI and offered to make a donation for the fight against doping.

"This was discussed by our anti-doping people," Verbruggen said. "They said, 'We can't use this money for doping controls.' Then they said if Lance would agree that we buy a Sysmex for this, then that could be a good idea. I left it there. I have not been busy with it afterwards."

A Sysmex is a machine used for analyzing blood.

Verbruggen said the machine could be priced up to $85,000, but ended up costing between $51,000 and $60,000.

Verbruggen said he checked with the UCI in 2005 or 2006 to see if they had received the money.

"They had forgotten about it," he said. "Then they went after the money and they got it. That's the whole story."

Verbruggen said he didn't see any serious conflict in the arrangement.

"In hindsight, you can say that," Verbruggen said. "But at that time, it was good. We needed the Sysmex for the control of the hematocrits [blood levels]. We spend a lot of money in anti-doping and we got that and we accepted it."