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Analysis: How Spain became center of operations in Armstrong’s doping ring

Celaya arrives, first touch with doping

In 1997, in its second full season, U.S. Postal Service was just finding its legs as a team, trying to survive in the cutthroat peloton in Europe.

According to previous reports in the Danish media, Hamilton and other team members approached U.S. Postal Service management in 1997 about the lack of a doping program. The riders argued they could barely keep up, let alone win anything, without competing on a level playing field against a peloton fueled by EPO.

Testimony from former riders confirms that in 1997, one year before Armstrong joined the team, Dr. Pedro Celaya, a Spanish doctor with strong ties to the Spanish cycling community, replaced Dr. Prentice Steffen, the American doctor who now works with Garmin-Sharp.

USADA’s investigations did not reveal who made that initial decision to fire Prentice and hire Celaya, but the statement was loud and clear. According to the USADA report, that is when the team’s doping program took root: “It is acknowledged by those who were on the team at this time that the organized team doping program for the U.S. Postal Service Cycling team began at this point.”

Celaya would come and go throughout the team’s history, but riders remembered him fondly, and later described him as a doctor who “actually cared about our health.”

Celaya is still active in cycling and was working with RadioShack-Trek this season. He is currently facing a lifetime ban as a result of the USADA investigation and the team removed his profile from its website recently.

“One of the first things that Celaya did upon meeting the riders was to measure their hematocrit,” USADA quoted one of the riders.

That meant, of course, creating a baseline to determine how much EPO they could inject without surpassing the UCI’s recently imposed 50-percent hematocrit level.

Before the arrival of Armstrong, U.S. Postal Service was still seen as a small-time team. When they received an invite to the 1997 Tour, their stated goal was to have all nine riders simply arrive to Paris. No one dared to dream of winning the Tour. A stage win would have beyond their wildest dreams.

But it was clear, even before Armstrong’s arrival in 1998, the “Posties” were already starting their own doping program, not to try and dominate the sport’s biggest race, but to simply survive.

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