In the wake of Lance Armstrong’s confession that he had doped in order to win the Tour de France, his trainer, Dr. Michele Ferrari has made the improbable claim that the American would have reached the same levels of performance without resorting to doping.
During his televised interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, Armstrong said that he did not believe it would have been possible to win the Tour without undergoing blood transfusions and using testosterone and EPO.
“I think Lance is wrong,” Ferrari wrote in a blog entry on his website, in which he said that “athletes and the media tend to overestimate the effects [of illegal substances], with the result that they are considered indispensable to compete with opponents who may use the same methods/substances.”
Ferrari has been banned for life by the US Anti-Doping Agency after six former US Postal Service riders provided evidence concerning his doping practices. Part of their testimony included details of a method taking oral testosterone which involved using micro-doses diluted in olive oil, something which Ferrari says “could not have more than a placebo effect.”
“The amount absorbed with this mode of administration and dosage are negligible and certainly have no effect on performance or recovery,” Ferrari wrote. “In the case of Armstrong after the disease, it is possible that exogenous administration of testosterone may even worsen his aerobic performances.”
Ferrari went on to claim that the increase in haemoglobin mass caused by using the methodology outlined by the riders who testified to USADA would have been possible through altitude training.
“EPO and auto-transfusions, in the manner reported by [Armstrong’s] teammates (micro-doses of EPO and 1-2 units of blood) correspond to an increase of Hb-mass by 5-10% for an endurance athlete weighing 75 kg, who has 9-10 liters of blood,” Ferrari wrote. “Such increments of Hb-mass correspond to performance improvements in the order of 3-6%. Equal increases in Hb-mass can be achieved with appropriate periods of altitude training.
“Therefore Armstrong would have achieved the same level of performance without resorting to doping, also thanks to his talent which was far superior to the rivals of his era.”
While Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Michael Barry, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie provided testimony to USADA regarding their doping under Ferrari’s supervision, the Reasoned Decision does not contain the same level of detail regarding Armstrong’s own doping practices.
In an interview with Al Jazeera in December, Ferrari had claimed that he believed Armstrong was clean.