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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

Armstrong was about to start a post-surgery chemotherapy regimen. Two doctors came in, asked some "banal questions," she testified, and then, "boom, 'Have you done any performance-enhancing drugs?' And he said, 'Yes.'

"And they asked, 'What were they?'

"And Lance said, 'EPO, growth hormone, cortisone, steroid, testosterone.' "

Frankie Andreu corroborated his wife's recollections in his own testimony. However, Armstrong sharply disputed their accounts.

"The story is not true," Armstrong testified.

More recently, in response to reports about the Andreu couple's testimony published last month in The Times and the French newspaper Le Monde, Armstrong issued a statement calling the couple's version "absurd and untrue."

Adam Paskoff, a lawyer representing the couple, said in a telephone interview that they "answered honestly and truthfully under court order."

One doctor who supervised Armstrong's cancer care said in an arbitration affidavit that he had "no recollection" of any declaration of prior EPO use by Armstrong. Dr. Craig Nichols, although not identified as among those present at the Indiana hospital with the Andreus in 1996, said in his affidavit that "Lance Armstrong never admitted, suggested or indicated that he has ever taken performance-enhancing drugs."

Armstrong did take EPO during his racing hiatus for cancer treatment. Nichols acknowledged in his affidavit that he administered EPO to the racer in 1996 to offset the side effects of his chemotherapy.

After January 1997, Nichols said, neither he nor his colleagues gave Armstrong any additional EPO. "There would have been no reason to do so" once chemotherapy ended, he said.

The prescribed EPO could not have had any performance-enhancing impact on Armstrong's cycling months or years later, Nichols said, because its effects only "last for approximately two weeks."

*

Betsy Andreu's arbitration testimony also put a spotlight on Armstrong's relationship with controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari. She described riding along on a secret rendezvous between Armstrong and the doctor in a parking lot outside Milan.

Ferrari was waiting in a camper van. The site was selected, Andreu testified, "so [Armstrong] wouldn't be seen with him."

Armstrong did not dispute the meeting. "I was in there for a brief meeting, check body fat and body composition and 15 minutes later we are gone," he testified.

"But I understand the insinuation that I went in and got doped up the day before [the race]. I've heard that, but that's not what happened."

Ferrari once defended EPO, telling the French newspaper L'Equipe in 1994 that the synthetic hormone "is not dangerous; it's the abuse that is. It's also dangerous to drink 10 liters of orange juice."

In 2004, an Italian court convicted Ferrari of "sporting fraud" after a trial in which an Italian cyclist testified that the doctor had advised him to use EPO and steroids. That conviction was overturned in May by a Bologna appeals court, which ruled that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict.

In testimony, Armstrong called Ferrari's reputation "dodgy." Ferrari, responding to questions from The Times, said about their secret meetings:

"Those were the times when it wasn't appropriate for him to be seen with someone labeled as a 'bad guy,' like I was at the time."

However, Armstrong said he regarded the doctor as a genius on such matters as "altitude issues." Ferrari also was an expert on diet and on such cycling-specific issues as cadence, the racer said.

And despite the doctor's reputation, Armstrong testified, he "never had any reason to believe that this guy was dirty."

In testimony, Armstrong said Ferrari did not prescribe, administer or suggest any kind of drug or doping program.

Ferrari, who credited Armstrong's success to hard work, said that in cycling "suspicions are ever-present, kicking in every time an athlete pulls off a good performance. Suddenly mystery surrounds it all, assuming some sort of magic or chemical formula."

In response to The Times, Ferrari said he neither provided drugs to Armstrong nor suggested any.

Frankie Andreu testified that Armstrong once showed him "an assortment of little round pills" that Armstrong said he took "at different parts during the race, like 50 kilometers to the end, 30 kilometers to the end."

Andreu said, "I have absolutely no idea what they were."

They were caffeine pills, Armstrong said in his testimony.

"If you want a confession, I'm a bit of a coffee fiend. That's the extent of my performance-enhancing drugs," he told the arbitration panel.

Only high concentrations of caffeine have ever been restricted. Three years ago, WADA removed caffeine entirely from its list of banned substances.

Questions about EPO use came up again in testimony by onetime Armstrong friend and three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond. In deposition testimony, LeMond said the two racers had a falling out in 2001 after a heated phone exchange.

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