Phil Liggett, who has in the past criticized USADA’s case against Lance Armstrong and often defended the Texan, has given his first reaction since the anti-doping agency released their 1,000 page submission into doping in the US Postal team.
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour titles by USADA after a damning investigation that included testimony from 26 individuals, 11 of whom were former teammmates.
Liggett has been a constant supporter of Armstrong through the rider’s career and through numerous doping allegations. He admitted to not having read the report, with his information having been received second-hand through news sources. He told Cyclingnews: “It is a witch hunt, lets face it, because they only want Lance. Call it what you like, the fact is they only have one ambition and that’s to get Lance.”
Liggett, who has commented on the Tour de France for a number of television networks in a career that has spanned 40 years and 35 Tours, added that he was still a supporter of Armstrong, despite the fact the revelations around Armstrong's doping had made him ‘look like a fool’.
“If he’s been taking drugs then of course it’s right [to sanction] but they still lack the absolute proof as far as I’m aware. I still am a supporter of Armstrong. Whatever way we look at it Lance has been good for the sport. No one can condone, if it’s finally proved, that he’s ridden his whole career on drugs. I had an email from an eminent scientist from the US yesterday. An SMS actually. It said if Lance Armstrong had taken the drugs outlined by USADA he’d have been dead ten years ago. He’s an eminent scientist and a very intelligent man. I don’t know his name, the SMS came from a secondary person.”
In August, Liggett had claimed that witnesses had been paid for giving evidence against Lance Armstrong in the agency's investigation into doping and conspiracy – the veteran commentator still appeared to defend Armstrong, regardless of whether he had cheated. Liggett's claims were immediately rebuffed by USADA.
“He has been the best athlete in the world and the drugs have not made him that much better, He’d have probably still have won on a level playing field and still been the champion. He’s also brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people and no one seems to have taken this into account and introduced a lot of bike riders into the sport and into cycling as a pastime.”
Liggett’s assertion that Armstrong had brought happiness is at odds with USADA’s report, in which the disgraced cyclist is accused of helping to run a systematic doping regime, with intimidation an employed tactic.
“Of course you feel cheated. As a commentator you’ve made these guys super heroes and in frankness it’s made you see a bit of a fool to say the least but we were only fools in retrospect.”
Liggett added that Tyler Hamilton’s book, The Secret Race, had been an awakening. Having criticized Hamilton in the past, Liggett said: “I don’t believe it’s possible to write a book like Tyler Hamilton has done without it being the truth. I don’t think it’s possible. Everyone has read the book. There has to be a lot of truth in book but at the end of the day there has be a shadow of doubt.”
“But I’ve no reason not to support Armstrong. I don’t know. He told me to his face that he didn’t and I had no reason not to believe it. Don’t forget, on television we don’t actually mix with the riders. I call the pictures as I see them.”
In August, Liggett also stated that he would retire if Armstrong had been proven as a drug cheat. The UCI has to either ratify or appeal USADA’s case but Liggett said that his future had already been decided by future contracts.
“I can’t [retire] because of contracts that have been signed that will not let me walk away. If I had no contracts signed I’d be ready to give up the sport now. I’ll be 70 years old next year and there are still things I want to do with my life. I can’t walk away because of contracts I’ve signed until 2016. I do find it depressing at times.”