In the wake of fresh doping allegations against Lance Armstrong, cycling’s world governing body and one of his former teammates came to the defence of the seven-time Tour de France champion on Monday.
Tyler Hamilton, another ex-teammate of Armstrong, claiming to have witnessed the American take performance-enhancing drugs during or before the 1999, 2000 and 2001 Tours while with the United States Postal team.
However, team rider Viatcheslav Ekimov says he never saw Armstrong do any of the things Hamilton described.
The International Cycling Union also denied claims from Hamilton that it helped cover up a positive sample submitted by Armstrong at the Tour de Suisse in 2001.
“The UCI is deeply shocked by the seriousness of the allegations made on the 60 Minutes program aired by US television network CBS,” the organisation said in a statement. “The allegations of Mr. Tyler Hamilton are completely unfounded.”
Ekimov, who rode with Armstrong as he won the Tour from 2000 to 2005 and is now RadioShack’s team manager, referred to Hamilton as a “liar” and suggested he has ulterior motives in making his revelations now.
“Behind his story is something,” Ekimov said. “First of all, it’s untrue. And behind his story is some money or some stimulation. Because why did this guy just crack now? Why didn’t he do it in 2005? … I call these guys liars. First they lie about the innocence, now they lie about something else.
“I think it’s just money. It seems to me like somebody really wants to kill Lance and put him down. There’s all this interest to find people who will say something.”
‘No manipulation or cover up’
Hamilton has twice been banned for doping. Armstrong has always denied doping and has never tested positive.
Hamilton said Armstrong had told him of a positive sample he submitted in 2001, claiming the Texan made a deal with the UCI and they “figured out a way for it to go away”.
But the UCI “categorically rejected” the accusation, insisting it had “never altered or hidden the results of a positive test”.
The organisation also said that Armstrong had never been notified of a positive finding and reserves the right to take legal action against Hamilton.
“The UCI can only express its indignation at this latest attempt to damage the image of cycling by a cyclist who has not hesitated to abuse the trust of all followers of cycling on several occasions in the past,” the statement said.
“The UCI can only confirm that Lance Armstrong has never been notified of a positive test result by any anti-doping laboratory. Once again, the UCI wishes to state that no manipulation or cover up has occurred in respect of its anti-doping procedures.”
The CBS program said that UCI officials helped arrange a meeting involving Armstrong and the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory at Lausanne which tested the Swiss race samples.
‘We have to be neutral’
The UCI and its former president Hein Verbruggen, whose 14-year spell in office ended in 2005, denied such a meeting took place.
“There has never, ever been a cover-up. Not in the Tour de Suisse, not in the Tour de France,” Verbruggen said. “I don’t know anything about suspicious tests. I was not aware of that.”
The UCI has previously said the 2001 Swiss race was clear of doping, and denied suggestions that Armstrong gave it money for covering up a failed test.
Armstrong donated $25 000 in 2002 for the Swiss-based organisation’s anti-doping program and $100 000 in 2005 for the purchase of a Sysmex machine used for analysing blood.
Tour de Suisse spokesperson Rolf Huser said that organisers knew nothing about the race test results, which are conducted by cycling federations and anti-doping agencies.
“We are never in the loop about doping controls. We have to be neutral,” Huser said. “We can’t say anything about these rumours from 2001. We had the [race] results and everything was OK.”
Hamilton’s claim regarding the Tour de Suisse was previously made by Floyd Landis, another rider who denied doping during his career before later admitting to using banned substances.
Verbruggen and his successor as UCI president, Pat McQuaid, are suing Landis in a Swiss court for saying that the governing body protected star riders from doping allegations.
In a separate development on Monday, Italian police carried out a search on the hotel of the RadioShack team currently competing the Giro d’Italia.
RadioShack team physician Nino Danieli told CyclingNews.com that police questioned him and searched the team vehicles but that he signed a police statement saying nothing of interest was found.
The RadioShack team is backed by Armstrong and has the same management in place as during his Tour de France victories with US Postal (later renamed Discovery Channel). Armstrong rode for RadioShack until he retired earlier this year.
It was unclear if the search was related to the ongoing investigation into Michele Ferrari, a banned Italian physician who was once Lance Armstrong’s training adviser. — AP