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Did Armstrong open the door to L’Equipe exposé?

World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound said Thursday that UCI president Hein Verbruggen was the source of documents linking anonymous urine samples to Lance Armstrong, revealed three weeks ago by the French newspaper L’Equipe. A UCI statement issued late Thursday confirmed that the agency had released a single document to L’Equipe reporter Damien Ressiot, adding that it had done so with the permission of Armstrong himself. Where does the finger point?In conference call with reporters on Thursday, Pound referred to an as-of-yet-unreleased letter from Verbruggen that acknowledges

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UCI says it gave one document with Armstrong's permission

World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound said Thursday that UCI president Hein Verbruggen was the source of documents linking anonymous urine samples to Lance Armstrong, revealed three weeks ago by the French newspaper L’Equipe.

A UCI statement issued late Thursday confirmed that the agency had released a single document to L’Equipe reporter Damien Ressiot, adding that it had done so with the permission of Armstrong himself.

Where does the finger point?
In conference call with reporters on Thursday, Pound referred to an as-of-yet-unreleased letter from Verbruggen that acknowledges that he had given the French reporter at least one document that provided the critical link to six samples that had tested positive for EPO in 1999, the year of Armstrong’s first Tour victory.

“It is obvious where the information came from,” Pound said. “Mr. Verbruggen said to us that he had shown all of the documents signed by Mr. Armstrong and his team to the journalist, and that he had given that reporter a copy of at least one of those files.”

A spokesman for the UCI later told the French news agency AFP that it had, indeed, supplied Ressiot with a single document, but did so with Armstrong’s permission.

“The UCI has no problem confirming what it has also said in writing to Mr. Pound,” the spokesman told AFP. “The journalist in question came to the UCI on a false pretext and with the approval of Armstrong. He left the UCI with a copy of just one document.”

That document, along with others the paper acquired, proved to be critical in linking Armstrong to the positive results of tests conducted on the 1999 samples. The mention of Armstrong’s permission would also explain why Ressiot and L’Equipe had not been able to reveal the names of other riders whose samples also tested positive during the 1999 Tour de France.

In an exposé titled “Armstrong’s Lies” L’Equipe provided the images of six separate documents linking the numbered-but-anonymous samples, taken during the 1999 Tour de France, to documents containing those same numbers signed by both Armstrong and team director Johann Bruyneel.

So, why did he give permission?
None of the 17 samples Armstrong provided to UCI medical authorities during the 1999 Tour were labeled as positives when originally tested. A single test for corticosteroids showed slight traces, lower than that which would trigger a positive. Armstrong subsequently produced a doctor’s prescription for a topical steroid cream that he said was for the treatment of a saddle sore.

There was, however, no recognized test for the presence of recombinant erythropoietin at the time the samples were originally tested. That test was finalized in 2000 and first employed at the 2001 Tour.

If Armstrong had indeed authorized the release of documents to Ressiot, he may not have been aware that the French national doping laboratory had re-visited the samples from 1999 as part of an ongoing refinement of testing procedures.

Armstrong has repeatedly welcomed scrutiny, often asserting that he is “the world’s most tested athlete,” and one who has “never tested positive.”

Whatever the motivation, the result was not good for Armstrong. The L’Equipe story came just a month after the crowning achievement of his remarkable career and just as he was beginning an easy glide into retirement. Armstrong reacted by repeating his denials over the use of performance-enhancing drugs and called the L’Equipe story an example of the paper’s ongoing witch-hunt against him.

Investigation… of what?
The UCI has since announced that it intends to investigate the matter, but emphasized that much of its focus would be on tracking down the source of an alleged “leak.” Thursday’s statement from the UCI would suggest, however, that the governing body already knew where and when the document was given to Ressiot.

Pound, who said WADA has no jurisdiction in a case that occurred prior to its creation in November 1999, said the doping agency would assist the UCI in its investigation, but had “no interest” in participating if the leak issue was the UCI’s sole focus.

“We’re waiting to see whether they have a commitment to get at the truth and the whole truth before we decide to participate further in the investigation,” Pound said. “We’re certainly prepared to help and if one of the issues that the UCI wants to explore is how some of this information became public, well that’s fine. But we’re not prepared to sit by and participate in an investigation that focuses only on how the information became public.”

Pound quickly added that it was already apparent that the only possible source of that information was the UCI itself.

“It’s quite clear that the only way there could have been a match between the code numbers and a particular athlete was on the basis of information provided by the UCI,” he said. “They did remove the code numbers from the information they provided to the media, so I don’t understand why they’re not stepping up and saying, ‘Well, I guess we do know how the names got public. We made it possible.’

“It certainly wasn’t WADA and certainly wasn’t the French laboratory, which didn’t have any of the names,” Pound added. “Neither of us had that information.”

Pound said Verbruggen “at least showed all six [critical documents] to the reporter from L’Equipe and he gave at least one copy… I don’t know if there was more than one copy or not.”

Pound said it was strange that cycling’s governing body has focused so much of its response on finding the source of the information.

“That’s our suggestion that’s been to him, asking, ‘Why are you looking farther than the UCI in respect to disclosure?'” Pound said. “As far as I understand it, the forms are distributed so that one copy goes to the UCI, one goes to the athlete, one goes to the national federation, one went to the French ministry and then there’s the blind one that goes to the lab.”

“The French ministry destroyed its copies two years later,” Pound said. “I have no idea whether the French federation still has theirs or, if so, where, but the UCI has kept them. I don’t know what their view is of their own requirement that those forms be destroyed two years later, but they obviously haven’t.”

Under further questioning, Pound said it was his impression that it was Verbruggen who personally offered the documents that allowed L’Equipe to make the connection, adding that the UCI president as much as conceded that point in a letter to the doping agency.

“That’s what I understand from the letter he sent to us,” Pound said.

Pound said the revelation would have had to have come prior to the publication of the L’Equipe story because “that copy appeared in the article on August 23rd.”

Pound said the agency had not yet released the text of the Verbruggen letter, but added “we might.”

The UCI suggested Thursday evening that it would not object to the release of any such communication.


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