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Published: Thursday October 11, 2012 MYT 12:46:00 PM

USADA: Armstrong dope conspiracy biggest in sport

WASHINGTON: "Overwhelming" evidence shows Lance Armstrong engaged in the biggest doping conspiracy in sports history to win the Tour de France seven times, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said Wednesday.

USADA chief executive Travis T. Tygart said USADA has submitted a report on why it banned Armstrong for life in August to the International Cycling Union (UCI) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and released more than 1,000 pages of evidence gathered in a probe of Armstrong and the US Postal Service team.

"The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming," Tygart said.

"The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."

That includes testimony from 11 former Armstrong teammates and 26 people in all, 15 of them with knowledge of US Postal riders and doping activities.

Among those was George Hincapie, who admitted in a statement Wednesday that he took performance-enhancing drugs.

"Lance Armstrong did not merely use performance-enhancing drugs. He supplied them to his teammates," the report said. "He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team. He enforced and re-enforced it."

Other former Armstrong teammates who testified include Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie.

Tygart said the program was designed to evade detection as well as pressure athletes into taking drugs and maintain a "code of silence" about activities.

"We hope the sport will use this tragedy to prevent it from ever happening again," Tygart said.

USADA also cites e-mails, lab test results, scientific data and financial records, included more than $1 million in documented payments from Armstrong to a Swiss company run by doctor Michele Ferrari, who purportedly advised him on doping.

"The evidence in the case is beyond strong," the report said. "It is as strong as or stronger than that presented in any case brought by USADA."

Armstrong was banned for life by USADA and stripped of his seven Tour de France triumphs from 1999-2005 after declining the chance to challenge the doping charges against him before a USADA arbitration panel.

Armstrong, who has denied any wrongoding, said he was weary of years of allegations against him and tired of fighting, instead hoping to focus on his Livestrong foundation and anti-cancer fundraising activities.

"We weren't about to go through another year like the last two years dealing with the emotional and financial stress on Lance," Armstrong attorney Tim Herman said.

The decision not to press ahead with a defense against the charges and take the chance to contest the evidence against him came after Armstrong lost a legal fight in US court to challenge USADA's system of hearing doping appeals.

"Lance Armstrong was given the same opportunity to come forward and be part of the solution. He rejected it," Tygart said.

"Instead he exercised his legal right not to contest the evidence and knowingly accepted the imposition of a ban from recognized competition for life and disqualification of his competitive results from 1998 forward."

The report says: "Had there been a hearing, even more evidence would have been presented... Mr. Armstrong's refusal to participate in a hearing prevented the testimony of many other witnesses from being heard."

Herman also renewed Armstrong's objections to USADA's appeal system to a US arbitration panel and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), saying the inability to appeal to the US court system rather than CAS was "diabolical."

"The process is completely rigged. I dont care what Travis Tygart says," Herman said. "Christians dealing with the lions in Rome had a better record than athletes dealing with USADA. It's a rigged system."

The UCI has challenged USADA's authority to bring charges against Armstrong but WADA backed USADA's jurisdiction and power to press the case.

The UCI could appeal the sanctions against Armstrong to CAS.

Three US Postal team members - director Johan Bruyneel, doctor Pedro Celaya and trainer Jose Marti - have chosen to contest the charges and face a public hearing on the matter, likely later this year.

Herman attacked the credibility of USADA's findings, calling it "a one-sided hatchet job - a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories."

Tygart denied Armstrong's claims of a "witch hunt" against him, saying USADA pressed the case as it would have against any suspected dope cheat.

"We focused solely on finding the truth without being influenced by celebrity or non-celebrity, threats, personal attacks or political pressure because that is what clean athletes deserve and demand," Tygart said. - AFP

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