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Allegations Trail Armstrong Into Another Stage

A TIMES INVESTIGATION

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

In his report made public May 31, Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman said the French lab that performed those tests did not follow the stringent protocols required to establish a doping violation. That, in addition to the missing A samples, would make establishing such a violation impossible under traditional standards.

Edward Coyle, a University of Texas sports performance researcher retained as an expert by Armstrong's lawyers, testified that Armstrong had, post-cancer, not only lost weight, resculpting his body, but simultaneously improved his power output -- thereby producing a "huge" power surge.

Asked whether he thought Armstrong could win the Tour without doping, Coyle replied, "Yes, I do, and I believe he can."

Since then, Armstrong has accused the French lab of misconduct and, in a June 9 letter to the International Olympic Committee, accused the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) of pressuring the French lab to produce what he characterized as an "improper report." He blamed WADA for subsequent press accounts linking him to EPO, and he called for the IOC to force WADA Chairman Dick Pound to resign.

The IOC, on June 21, said it was "encouraging an independent inquiry."

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Accusations arising during the arbitration also turned to the practice of blood manipulation -- a process called "autologous transfusion" by which racers withdraw, store and then re-inject their own blood to increase oxygen-bearing red blood cells during competition. It is a prohibited practice, but difficult to detect.

During an instant-messaging exchange a year ago between two former Armstrong racing colleagues, Jonathan Vaughters told Frankie Andreu that transfusing took place during the 2005 Tour.

Their computer conversation took place during the early morning of July 26, according to testimony, shortly after each had returned from the 2005 race in France. Andreu was at his suburban Detroit kitchen table and Vaughters at his home in Colorado.

A printout of the messages -- marked as Exhibit 100, discussed in the hearing and reviewed by The Times -- included Vaughters' account of an elaborate transfusing scheme.

"Yeah, it's very complex how [they] avoid all the controls now, but it's not any new drug or anything, just the resources and planning to pull off a well devised plan," said the participant identified as "Cyclevaughters."

He said the blood was drawn "right after the Dauphine," an apparent reference to an eight-stage French race in June that is considered an important tune-up for the Tour de France in July.

Andreu, identified in the transcript as FDREU, asked about the blood supplies. "How do they sneak it in, or keep it until needed?"

Vaughters responded that the blood was delivered "on the rest day" by motorcycles equipped with "refridgerated [sic] panniers."

During the 2005 Tour, Armstrong lost the yellow jersey -- worn by the race's leader -- to German Jens Voigt at the ninth stage, on Sunday, July 10. After a rest day on July 11, Armstrong reclaimed the yellow jersey, finishing second in a 111-mile mountain stage.

"Today I had good legs," Armstrong told reporters afterward.

Vaughters, who did not testify in the hearing, also wrote about doping during his message exchange, telling Andreu that some teams were getting "25 injections every day." He also wrote: "It's not like I never played with hotsauce, eh?"

Reached by telephone recently, Vaughters declined to comment.

Armstrong's attorneys provided an affidavit signed by Vaughters on Feb. 2 that played down his computer comments to Andreu. Vaughters' affidavit called his instant-message conversation "nothing more than

It also said Vaughters has "no personal knowledge that any team in the Tour de France, including Armstrong's Discovery team in 2005, engaged in any prohibited conduct whatsoever."

The affidavit said his comments "regarding teams and riders in the session are nothing more than rumors and speculation."

Attorneys for Armstrong called the computer messages "incorrect and unfair." In an e-mail to The Times, Sean E. Breen, of the Austin-based law firm Herman, Howry & Breen, said that "the gossip in the message is unsubstantiated and unreliable" and said Vaughters' comments to Andreu should not be characterized as "factually based."

Andreu signed a sworn affidavit as well, validating that the instant-messaging conversation took place as represented in the printout.

The Michigan racer's wife, Betsy Andreu, provided some of the most hotly contested testimony of the arbitration hearings.

She told the judges that a few days after Armstrong's cancer surgery a decade ago, she and her husband were among a group of friends visiting Armstrong at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. The racer had undergone surgery for testicular cancer that doctors said had spread to his brain.

It was a Sunday, Oct. 27, 1996. She recalled that a Dallas Cowboys football game was on television in the room.

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