USADA letter paints dark picture of Armstrong era

Highlights of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency letter to Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel and others

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A United States Anti-Doping Agency letter, first made public on Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, paints a deeply troubling picture of Lance Armstrong’s run as the world’s most dominant cyclist, alleging systemic use of performance enhancing drugs and a years-long conspiracy to cloak wide-ranging doping.

It is a sweeping, top-down indictment of the Armstrong era, spanning teams, management and doctors, some of which, such as RadioShack-Nissan manager Johan Bruyneel, are still involved in the sport. Here, we detail a number of the key components of the letter, including details of the doping practices allegedly used and the evidence on which USADA has based its case.

Read the full letter >>

USADA accuses Armstrong of using prohibited substances, possessing banned drugs and equipment, such as needles and blood bags, and trafficking EPO and other drugs. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency also claims Armstrong assisted and encouraged other riders to use performance enhancing drugs, and later covered up violations.

In a statement Wednesday, Armstrong said, “These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity.

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one.”

USADA says Armstrong tested positive at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland for EPO and that blood collection data from 2009 and 2010 was “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”

The letter was sent to Bruyneel, RadioShack-Nissan team doctor Pedro Celaya, Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral, Pepe Martí and Dr. Michele Ferrari. Armstrong was the only cyclist listed as a recipient and, according to a UCI statement, the only athlete named in the investigation.

The Alleged Conspiracy

USADA collaborated with a nearly two-year-long federal investigation into doping in pro cycling, and had been looking into the Armstrong years since 2010, at the behest of the International Cycling Union, when former cyclist and Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis’ allegations went public.

USADA claims that the letter details “a portion” of the evidence gathered in its investigation of the United States Postal Service, Discovery Channel, Astana and RadioShack teams — all of which Bruyneel has managed and Armstrong has ridden for.

“USADA sought to give the riders an opportunity to be a part of the solution in moving cycling forward by being truthful and honest about their past experiences with doping in cycling,” the letter reads.

With the exception of Armstrong, USADA says, every rider contacted described their involvement with doping. Those riders include Landis and Tyler Hamilton, who stated in May 2011 that he had testified before the federal grand jury.

CBS News program “60 Minutes” reported that George Hincapie had also testified before the grand jury, though Hincapie has refused to comment. Hincapie, who rode with Armstrong for all seven of the Texan’s Tour wins and now rides with BMC Racing, announced earlier this week that the 2012 season would be his last as a professional.

USADA alleges a massive, 14-year doping violation that it labeled a “USPS conspiracy.” Team officials, such as Bruyneel, allegedly obtained performance-enhancing drugs and then distributed them to top riders. There were code names for drugs and the expectation that riders use EPO and other drugs in order to help the leaders perform better in stage race general classifications, according to USADA.

“Beginning in 1999 and continuing through the present it has been an object of the conspiracy to conceal and cover-up the doping conduct of the USPS Conspiracy,” the letter states. “Numerous witnesses will testify that as part of this cover-up Johan Bruyneel, Pedro Celaya, Michele Ferrari, Lance Armstrong and other co-conspirators engaged in activities to conceal their conduct and mislead anti-doping authorities including false statements to the media, false statements and false testimony given under oath and in legal proceedings, and attempts to intimidate, discredit, silence and retaliate against witnesses.”

The Alleged Doping Practices

It chronicles blood doping, saline and plasma infusions, and EPO, testosterone, Human Growth Hormone and Cortisone use as follows:

EPO use: “Multiple riders who competed on the USPS and Discovery Channel teams from 1998 through 2007 have reported to USADA that Team Director Johan Bruyneel, Team Trainer Jose Pepe Martí and co-conspirator, Dr. Michele Ferrari, a consultant to the USPS and Discovery Channel teams and their riders, developed training plans dependent upon EPO use and instructed riders to train with the drug,” the letter reads. “Multiple riders with first hand knowledge will testify that between 1998 and 2005 Armstrong personally used EPO and on multiple occasions distributed EPO to other riders.”

Blood doping: According to USADA, “Blood transfusions became more important to the conspiracy herein after the urine EPO test was introduced in 2000.” Those transfusions, USADA claims, were administered by Bruyneel and others. “Armstrong used blood transfusions, was observed having blood re-infused, including during the Tour de France, and had blood doping equipment at his residence,” the letter reads.

Testosterone: USADA claims the drug was known as “oil” to the USPS and Discovery Channel teams. “Multiple riders who competed on the USPS and Discovery Channel teams from 1998 through 2007 have reported that Dr. Ferrari developed a method of mixing testosterone (i.e., andriol) with olive oil for oral administration and that this testosterone-olive oil mixture was frequently administered to team members,” the letter states. “USADA has eyewitness statements from multiple sources that Lance Armstrong used testosterone and administered the testosterone-olive oil mixture to himself and other riders.”

Human Growth Hormone: The anti-doping agency says that riders on the USPS and Discovery teams used the drug to promote recovery and that Bruyneel and others provided it to team members.

Cortisone: “Johan Bruyneel and Pepe Martí encouraged the unauthorized use of corticosteroids for performance enhancement and gave these drugs to riders,” the letter claims. “USADA will also rely upon first hand testimony from witnesses who were aware of Armstrong’s use of cortisone without medical authorization.”

Saline and plasma infusions: USADA alleges the USPS and Discovery teams used the injections to mask the use of other prohibited substances, such as EPO. “Riders who competed on the USPS and Discovery Channel teams from 1998 through 2007 have reported to USADA that each rider’s hematocrit level was always of primary interest to team director Johan Bruyneel,” the letter reads. “USADA will also present testimony concerning infusions given to numerous USPS riders, including Lance Armstrong.”

USADA later outlines Bruyneel’s alleged possession of blood bags and needles, his trafficking of EPO and other drugs, his administration of the substances and his covering up of the uses.

“With respect to Mr. Bruyneel, numerous riders will testify that Mr. Bruyneel gave to them and/or encouraged them to use doping products and/or prohibited methods, including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, hGH and cortisone during the period from 1999 through 2007,” USADA claims. “Riders and other witnesses will also testify that Bruyneel worked actively to conceal rule violations by himself and others throughout the period from 1999 through the present.”

The letter levels similar accusations surrounding team doctors del Moral and Celaya, Dr. Ferrari and team trainer Jose Pepe Martí.

Statute of Limitations

The World Anti-Doping Agency does not strip results eight years after they were accrued, but USADA argues in this case that the alleged activities took place within the last eight years and that “conspiratorial acts” from outside the statute of limitations may be pursued, based in part on USADA v. Hellebuyck.

Those who received the letter have 10 days to respond. A board outside of USADA will then review the investigation’s findings, and make a recommendation on how to proceed. USADA will then either close the case or file specific charges.