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U.S. Anti-Doping Agency brings charges against Armstrong

By Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Lance Armstrong could be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and is banned from competing as a triathlete as a result of new doping charges brought against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

A 15-page letter by USADA, obtained and verified by the Los Angeles Times, charged Armstrong with new allegations, claiming the agency collected blood samples in 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”

The Washington Post first reported the contentions.

Armstrong has not previously tested positive for banned performance-enhancing manipulations.

In February, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles closed a two-year investigation without filing any criminal charges. The grand jury heard from top U.S. cyclists, including Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton.

USADA can only suspend athletes from competition and strip them of awards, but not charge them criminally.

In a prepared written statement released Wednesday by Armstrong’s publicist, Armstrong said he had been notified by USADA and described its action as an effort to “dredge up discredited allegations dating back more than 16 years.”

“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.

“That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence. Any fair consideration of these allegations has and will continue to vindicate me.”

USADA’s letter, dated Tuesday, alleges Armstrong and five of his former cycling team associates, including three of his European-based team doctors and team manager Johan Bruyneel, participated in a doping conspiracy from 1998 to 2011. The letter said they engaged in banned doping practices and made false statements to cover up misdeeds.

The letter says more than 10 cyclists and team employees witnessed this conduct. Armstrong and the other five charged each face current competition bans.

The letter alleges “numerous riders … will testify based on personal knowledge” that Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and masking agents, and distributed and administered drugs to other riders from 1998 to 2005.

In a statement released Wednesday, an agency spokeswoman wrote, “USADA only initiates matters supported by the evidence. We do not choose whether or not we do our job based on outside pressures, intimidation or for any reason other than the evidence. Our duty on behalf of clean athletes and those that value the integrity of sport is to fairly and thoroughly evaluate all the evidence available and when there is credible evidence of doping, take action under the established rules.”

In a letter to USADA, Armstrong’s Washington, D.C.-based attorney, Robert D. Luskin, wrote, “It is a vendetta which has nothing to do with learning the truth and everything to do with settling a score and garnering publicity at Lance’s expense.”

The USADA letter also alleges Martial Saugy, the director of an anti-doping lab in Switzerland, said Armstrong’s urine sample results from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland indicated EPO use.

An official not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, but familiar with its details, told the Los Angeles Times that USADA believes it “wouldn’t be doing its job by not moving forward on this. There are still people in the sport named in this group of six. USADA should shut down if it doesn’t go after this. It would be perpetuating a continued cover-up by not acting.”

Armstrong won his most recent Tour de France title in 2005. He was scheduled to compete in the Ironman France in Nice on June 24.

In the USADA process, independent arbitrators will review evidence and ultimately conduct a hearing, probably near Armstrong’s home in Texas, calling witnesses to the stand, including the seven-time Tour champion. The hearing could happen by November and be open to the public if Armstrong wishes.

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