"What will we do with Coppi, Bartali or Merckx?”
Lance Armstrong’s former teammate Paolo Savoldelli has questioned the US Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to strip the American of his seven Tour de France titles after he opted not to contest charges of doping and conspiracy. Savoldelli raced with Armstrong at Discovery Channel in 2005, winning the Giro d’Italia and then riding in support of the Texan at the Tour de France.
Although Savoldelli admitted that he “would not put his hand in the fire for anybody, not even Lance,” he was critical of the USADA case.
“I think that it’s been propelled by political motives and I don’t think they’ll succeed in taking everything off him, as it goes against the principle of the statute of limitations, which is eight years,” Savoldelli told Corriere della Sera.
It was put to Savoldelli that USADA is sending out a strong message in stripping Armstrong of his titles, demonstrating that nobody is unimpeachable.
“Yes, it’s true but going back 14 years doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Savoldelli said. “What will we do with Coppi, Bartali or Merckx?”
Even though the federal investigation into Armstrong and US Postal, which ended in February, was focused on uncovering specific instances of federal fraud rather than more general acts of doping, Savoldelli nonetheless attempted to draw parallels with the USADA case.
“It seems that the federal investigation came to nothing and American justice doesn’t go in lightly on things like that. The federal investigator Novitzky was the bulldog of the Balco case. For this reason, the perseverance of the sporting justice system seems ridiculous to me and I think that the anti-doping investigator wants publicity. When Lance says it’s a waste of public money, he isn’t completely wrong…”
Savoldelli said that he was not part of Armstrong’s training group – “I was only in Tenerife with him once, but he wasn’t at altitude because he was with Sheryl Crow” – but he did offer an interesting insight into the mindset that was fostered by Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel at the team.
“Armstrong had a temper and he clashed with a lot of people. I didn’t leave him on very good terms myself because at the Tour he had behaved like a real patron,” Savoldelli said. “He was a braggart and it doesn’t surprise me that somebody wants to make him pay. He created a lot of enmity, sometimes without reason: he and Bruyneel felt they were invincible.
“One night at dinner, he said: ‘If you hear someone saying bad things about me, tell me.’ He needed it to psych himself up even more…”
While Armstrong’s decision not to contest the USADA charges constitutes an implicit admission of guilt, Savoldelli does not envisage that his erstwhile leader will ever make a full and frank confession.
“I’d rule that out. He isn’t naïve and now he has taken the decision that suited him best. But he’ll go on fighting.”