Americans at the Tour deny suspensions after Dutch paper claims they testified against Armstrong
ROUEN, France (AFP) — Former teammates of Lance Armstrong, who is facing new doping allegations, have played down a report claiming they testified against the seven-time Tour de France champion and would receive six-month bans after admitting doping.
According to a report in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, Americans George Hincapie (BMC Racing), Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie (both Garmin-Sharp) have confessed to doping.
The report added that they testified against Armstrong and would receive bans of six months beginning at the end of the season. All four riders are currently taking part in the Tour de France, and are said to have given evidence in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation, which has charged former U.S. Postal team leader Armstrong with doping.
Jonathan Vaughters, another former U.S. Postal rider who is now the CEO of Slipstream Sports, the management group behind the Garmin team, is also at the Tour and denied the claims in the report that his riders were facing suspension.
Hincapie, a teammate of Australian Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, refused to directly comment on the report ahead of Thursday’s fifth stage from Rouen to Saint-Quentin.
“I’m just disappointed this is being brought up once again,” said Hincapie, the only rider to accompany Armstrong in all seven of his triumphant Tour campaigns.
“I’ve always tried to do the right thing for the sport. Right now I’m here to do my job and I’m going to try and focus on that.
“BMC’s got nothing to do with this, Cadel is obviously here to try and win the Tour and I’m going to try and help him do that.”
Asked if he had spoken to Armstrong, Hincapie added: “I haven’t in a while. I’m sad he’s going through this. He’s done so many things for the sport. His accomplishments are incredible.”
The BMC team said earlier that it had received no notification concerning an eventual suspension of Hincapie.
“I can tell you we have not received any notification from any authority about this issue at all. So therefore we have no comment,” said BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz.
Ochowicz is the former manager of Motorola, the team with which Armstrong turned professional before his battle with cancer. It was after Armstrong’s return to the sport in 1998 that he joined U.S. Postal.
Ochowicz added: “First of all we don’t give comments about media stories that are written and we have no information about. George is here to race the Tour de France.”
Vaughters, whom De Telegraaf claimed had also admitted doping, immediately issued a denial on his Twitter account:
“Regarding the Dutch media report: No 6mos suspensions have been given to any member of Slipstream Sports. Today or at any future date.”
Leipheimer, meanwhile, refused to comment when asked if he had testified against Armstrong.
“I’m here to race the Tour de France and I’ve got nothing to say about the report,” he said.
“I don’t think it would help the situation, the speculation, so I’m not going to say anything about this report. I’m 100-percent committed to doing my best race.”
USADA has said previously that at least 10 former Armstrong teammates and associates would testify against him, but vowed to keep the names confidential.
A three-member independent anti-doping review board is charged with considering evidence against Armstrong to see if there is enough of a case to push forward with formal charges and a hearing.
Armstrong, 40, has always insisted he is innocent, saying he has passed more than 500 drugs tests.
USADA CEO Travis Tygart was not immediately available for comment on this story.