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A TIMES INVESTIGATION

Allegations Trail Armstrong Into Another Stage

The seven-time Tour de France champion steadfastly maintains he never used drugs to boost performance. Sworn testimony in a legal dispute asserted he did.

July 09, 2006|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

Lance Armstrong was regarded as just another promising cyclist in the racing pack when he arrived in Paris for the 1999 Tour de France. Little known outside the sport, his modest personal stats at the Tour included a 36th-place finish four years earlier. He had missed the prior two years after undergoing cancer treatment.

But from the first day, seemingly out of nowhere, Armstrong took control of the 2,290-mile race and cycled into sports history, winning the first of what would become an unprecedented seven consecutive victories in the world's premier endurance race.

Now, that feat of athletic domination has been called into question by allegations that performance-enhancing drugs may have played a role. Such rumors have long shadowed Armstrong's career, but the latest assertions are more troublesome -- for the first time, they have been made under oath.

Sworn testimony as well as exhibits and other documents constitute the record of confidential arbitration proceedings, a series of closed hearings conducted early this year in Dallas in connection with a contract dispute.

The Times reviewed the files -- including thousands of pages of transcripts, exhibits and other records. They are filled with conflicting testimony, hearsay and circumstantial evidence admissible in arbitration hearings but questionable in more formal legal proceedings.

The record shows no eyewitnesses to Armstrong's alleged drug use. And in his own sworn testimony, Armstrong unequivocally denies that he ever doped. Records also show he has never failed a competition drug test.

"I would never beat my wife, and I never took performance-enhancing drugs," he testified in January.

Still, the Texas case provides some of the most serious doping allegations to date and the first on-the-record outlines of a possible case against one of the most popular athletes in the United States.

Among accusations contained in the hearing record were:

* Testimony with new details about tests in 2004 that apparently detected drugs in Armstrong's preserved urine samples from the 1999 race.

An Australian anti-doping researcher told arbitrators that the samples showed evidence "beyond any reasonable doubt" of a banned substance: synthetic EPO, or erythropoietin. However, a Dutch report questioned the tests' validity and Armstrong, in his testimony, rejected the findings and denied using EPO.

* Testimony that Armstrong once acknowledged to doctors that he'd used drugs, what one former teammate called "hot sauce."

The wife of a cycling teammate testified that during an Indiana hospital visit she heard Armstrong tell a doctor he took various drugs, including steroids. Armstrong denied using drugs and testified that no such conversation occurred.

* Testimony of some teammates that they discussed with Armstrong adopting a doping regimen to improve their Tour competitiveness as early as 1995.

* Allegations of prohibited blood transfusions by members of Armstrong's team in 2005.

In one exchange of computer messages, marked as an exhibit in the arbitration case and discussed during the hearings, two racing colleagues referred to refrigerated blood supplies that supposedly were delivered along the race course by motorcycle couriers.

* Testimony of a secret Armstrong meeting in a parking lot outside Milan with a controversial Italian doctor who has publicly defended the safety of a banned drug.

The doctor, convicted of "sporting fraud" in a 2004 case overturned by an Italian appeals court this year, had what Armstrong himself testified was "a dodgy reputation." The American racer acknowledged monthly meetings with the doctor but denied in his testimony that drugs were involved.

The arbitration case stemmed from a business dispute between Armstrong and SCA Promotions Inc. -- a Dallas company that had offered to pay a bonus to the racer if he won the Tour in 2004, which he did. The company resisted making the payment after allegations of doping surfaced that summer.

The case was settled before any action by the presiding three-judge panel, with SCA Promotions agreeing in February to pay the contested $5-million fee, plus interest and attorney costs.

Though no verdict or finding of facts was rendered, Armstrong called the outcome proof that the doping allegations were baseless. "It's over. We won. They lost. I was yet again completely vindicated," he said in a statement in June.

The newest Armstrong allegations have emerged amid a widening doping scandal in the current Tour de France, the first without the American racer since 1998. Some of the sport's top riders were barred when the race began last weekend. Police raids in Madrid in May linked 58 cyclists to blood doping, including the top three finishers behind Armstrong in last year's Tour.

Heightened controversy has swirled around Armstrong since initial reports in France last summer that EPO was detected in the American racer's 1999 Tour samples.

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