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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AFP) — Lance Armstrong’s 2001 Tour of Switzerland drug test was suspicious, but wasn’t proof of EPO use, the laboratory chief who oversaw the procedure has told AFP.
That test, taken 11 years ago, forms part of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s dossier against the seven-time Tour de France winner, placing him at the heart of sport’s biggest doping conspiracy.
Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, two of Armstrong’s former teammates, testified that he had admitted to testing positive at the race in Switzerland but boasted of the result being covered up.
However, Martial Saugy, the director of the Lausanne laboratory that conducted the tests, told AFP: “There was no positive test on the Tour of Switzerland in 2001.”
The laboratory did say that three tests — one of which later was shown to be Armstrong’s — had been judged to be “suspect,” just on the borderline of a positive result in that era.
In 2002, Saugy said, UCI told him it had contacted Armstrong regarding the suspicious result, and only then did he realize that the American was among those who had fallen under suspicion.
“Armstrong had another suspect result during the 2002 Dauphiné Libéré. The politics of the UCI at that time, if there was such a result involving an important competitor, was to meet them and ask for an explanation,” claimed Saugy.
“That was their approach to prevention.”
“The UCI said to me at the end of June 2002: ‘We warned the rider for whom you had a suspect result in 2001, he gave another suspect return at another lab and he would like to know by which method it was tested.’
“The rider was Armstrong. It was then that I learned about it.”
Another pro cyclist, Bo Hamburger, was found positive for recombinant EPO in an out-of-competition urine test in 2001 and was sanctioned by the Danish cycling federation. Hamburger appealed to his national Olympic committee, which cleared him, and the UCI took the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
In January 2002, CAS ruled for Hamburger based in part on imprecision and inconsistency in the testing procedures, saying, ” the evidence heard does not sufficiently prove that the Respondent’s urine contained the substance rEPO prohibited by the UCI’s Antidoping Regulations when the urine sample was taken. ”
The ruling led laboratories and federations to become more cautious in their procedures, Saugy said.
“There’s no way today that this could be defended as a positive result. It’s impossible,” said Saugy.
“Since 2003, procedures oblige to take into account the risks of a false-positive which could verify that urine had not been affected by the physiology of the cyclist or degraded by bacteria.
“This was not done at the time and the urine no longer exists because the rules did not require keeping it.”