Tim Maloney, by European Editor
In a Thursday afternoon conference call with Lance Armstrong, Bill Stapleton and Armstrong's attorney Mark S. Levinstein of Williams & Connolly, Armstrong's agent Stapleton came out firing with both barrels against WADA head Dick Pound's recent comments, saying right up front, "What Mr. Pound did today, giving false and misleading statements that try to misdirect and divert the attention away from himself [and WADA] by alleging that the UCI is the source of the leak [of Lance Armstrong's medical control information for 1999] is wrong. The fact is what [L'Equipe journalist] Damien Ressiot got are the testing forms that Lance filled out when he took his tests in 1999. Those forms have a name and a number, but the issue is that there were codes attached to anonymous samples that were leaked to the press. That is where the system broke down here, and is the fundamental question here in terms of the [medical control] system and whether we can have confidence in it. Somebody directed that lab to leak the sample information with the codes and that is the question we should answer first before we start crucifying athletes without any due process. Pound has a long-standing pattern of attacking athletes prior to them having due process and has made statements that are in contradiction of his own [WADA] code. So there is a big problem with the medical control system."
Stapleton acknowledged that Lance Armstrong had approved Damien Ressiot of L'Equipe to review his archived medical control forms at UCI Headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, but Stapleton underlined that, "The form that the UCI gave Ressiot is not the issue here; we knew he had been given that form... so Pound says if the UCI won't admit that they are the source of the leak, [WADA] will release [UCI President Verbruggen's letter to WADA] and we invite Pound to release the letter. Because we don't have anything to worry about..."
Lance Armstrong also confirmed that they had authorised Ressiot to look at Armstrong's medical control records and Stapleton explained, "Let's be clear here; there were six [Proces Verbal medical control] forms shown in the L'Equipe article. We were told at the beginning of the Tour that Ressiot wanted to go to the UCI to see if Lance had ever had any medical exemptions on his forms [TUE, or Therapeutic Use Exemption]. I knew about it, Johan [Bruyneel] knew about it and Lance knew about it, but it was solely to look at the forms to see if there was this medical exemption on it."
Armstrong then commented, "There have been rumours around the press room for years that I was allowed because of my illness, because of my situation, to use EPO, to use anabolics. I heard that going back to 1999. Ressiot came along and said 'Look, I want to help you guys out, everybody's talking about this and I just want to look at one of your forms to see that there's not a TUE on there.' So we said sure, but the point being, he looked at one form but they showed six in the newspaper."
When Cyclingnews asked Armstrong where he thought the additional five Proces Verbal medical control forms came from, he said, "That's exactly the point. What's at issue here for us and for Dick Pound is the integrity of the [medical control] system. Where did the forms come from? And those are the questions that the UCI has asked WADA. And [WADA] has those answers; they are not answering those questions. So Dick Pound is trying to divert serious ethical issues with WADA and with himself. And if you access to the form and you can put it up with the sample, there is such a possibility to sabotage the system. The system has seriously failed and when these systems fail, you have to go to the head. And [Pound] won't answer the questions."
Armstrong further cast his doubts on the authenticity of the samples, pointing out that after the French team had won the World Cup Soccer in 1998, their samples and medical control information were destroyed in 24 hours. "That's a double standard! Where did the code numbers that went with the forms come from? That's what we're trying to find out. There's a lot on the line. We're not afraid of anything. We're trying to through this process to clear my name to some extent but we're not getting the answers; we don't know," said a frustrated Armstrong.
"I've been through this so many times; this is not our first rodeo with me and the French and doping and drugs and accusations and proof and so called proof. We know what EPO is, we know how strong it is, we know that it works. We know that we were formally investigated in 2000 for 18 months [in France] and they seized everything. And the only result was that the samples were 'too clean... TOO clean!' So it doesn't add up."
Armstrong's attorney Levinstein, who has extensive experience representing athletes, told Cyclingnews, "There was no reason for the lab to put the [medical control] numbers on the samples [from the 1999 Tour], instead of anonymous numbers, unless you are going to match the numbers [with the Proces Verbal medical control forms]. The French lab was responsible for those numbers being on the forms. The lab intentionally ignored medical control protocols to put the numbers on and the only reason they would do such a study with numbers on it is if someone told them to do so and were out to get someone in particular by matching those numbers."
As to whether Armstrong is contemplating legal action, he said that, "all options are open, it's all on the table" and categorically refused to rule out judicial recourse. As for a possible comeback in 2006, a fed up Armstrong put paid to the talk once and for all today, saying "Sitting here in my chair right now... yeah, I opened up the possibility a couple of weeks ago; I thought 'maybe I need to go back to the Tour for another one'. It seemed like the right answer. But sitting here today, dealing with all this stuff again and obviously it would be the Tour, there is no way I could go to France and get a fair shake, either on the roadside, in the doping control, or in the lab, or in the hotel or in the food or whatever. There's no way I could go back there. We're not going back [to France]. I'm happy with way my career ended, the way it went. I'm not coming back."
"I'm in here dealing with his BS," said Armstrong. "I've got three kids out swimming in the pool, splashing around, screaming my name... I'm sick of this."
Cyclingnews coverage of the L'Equipe allegations
June 27, 2006 - Carmichael defends Armstrong, Armstrong answers L'Equipe & LeMond
June 26, 2006 - LeMond: "Armstrong threatened my life"
June 19, 2006 - Armstrong calls for Pound's exit
June 18, 2006 - Lance Armstrong's open letter against Dick Pound
June 4, 2006 - UCI hits back at WADA
June 3, 2006 - WADA slams the Vrijman report
June 2, 2006 - L'Equipe stands by its story, UCI supports Vrijman's findings
June 1, 2006 - UCI, WADA and Armstrong react to Vrijman's report
May 31, 2006 - UCI lawyer asks for Armstrong's name to be cleared
May 14, 2006 - Two more weeks for Armstrong investigation
Click here for full coverage of the L'Equipe allegations.
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