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BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE, France (AFP) — International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid said Wednesday that he would maintain his silence over the serious doping charges swirling around Lance Armstrong until the American authorities have closed their case.
McQuaid, however, admitted he was baffled with the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) decision to ban three former Armstrong associates for life.
Armstrong, who is now retired, is fighting to save his reputation and his seven Tour de France victories after being charged with being part of a major doping conspiracy by the USADA.
The 41-year-old American, who has steadfastly denied doping, is fighting the charges and filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the USADA in a bid to have the investigation quashed.
Hours earlier, Armstrong’s defense appeared to suffer a blow when the USADA issued life bans against three of his former cycling associates.
Former U.S. Postal doctor Luis Garcia del Moral, Armstrong’s personal trainer and team consultant Michele Ferrari and coach “Pepe” Marti were banned for life for what the USADA termed “systematic doping within the team” during Armstrong’s seven-year reign in 1999-2005.
USADA chief executive officer Travis T. Tygart said the trio had chosen not to fight the sanctions because it “would only reveal what they already know to be the truth of their doping activity.”
Although the pressure appears to be mounting on Armstrong, arguably the world’s most famous cyclist, McQuaid said the UCI could not currently comment.
“It is not because of the seriousness of the case,” McQuaid told AFP in a telephone call from the Tour de France. “It would be inappropriate for us to make any comment on the Armstrong case
while the USADA procedure is still ongoing.
“We have no information in our possession about the case. Our hands are tied while the current procedure is ongoing.”
The Irishman stressed, however, he was baffled by the life bans handed to Ferrari, Marti and Del Moral — none of whom hold UCI licences to operate legally within the sport.
USADA chief Tygart said Tuesday: “Permanently banning these individuals from sport is a powerful statement that protects the current and next generation of athletes from their influence, and preserves the integrity of future competition.”
“From the UCI’s point of view we can’t see how these guys can be sanctioned for life,” said McQuaid. “They are not UCI licence holders, so under what grounds can they be sanctioned?”
Ferrari, Marti and Del Moral are part of a group of six individuals, including Armstrong, who USADA accused in June of being part of the doping conspiracy. The two others are Pedro Celaya and Johan Bruyneel, respectively the team doctor and team manager of the RadioShack-Nissan team that is currently racing the Tour.
Bruyneel, who decided not to come with his team to the Tour de France in light of USADA’s charges, has denied any wrongdoing.
McQuaid said that since Celaya and Bruyneel are both licence-holders, they would eventually be subject to the “legal procedures which are in place”.
USADA could strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and impose a lifetime ban on him if he is found guilty of the charges USADA has brought.
The moves come four months after a two-year U.S. government probe into Armstrong ended with no criminal charges filed.