"Overwhelming" evidence shows Lance Armstrong engaged in the biggest doping conspiracy in sports history to win the Tour de France seven times, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said on Wednesday.
USADA chief executive Travis T Tygart said it has submitted a report on why it banned Armstrong for life in August to the International Cycling Union (UCI) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and released more than 1 000 pages of supporting evidence gathered in a probe of Armstrong and the US Postal Service team.
"The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming," Tygart said. "The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
That includes testimony from 26 people, 15 of them with knowledge of US Postal riders and doping activities, including George Hincapie, who admitted in a statement Wednesday that he took performance-enhancing drugs. "It's extremely difficult today to acknowledge that during a part of my career I used banned substances," he said.
"Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them.
"I deeply regret that choice and sincerely apologise to my family, teammates and fans."
Other former Armstrong teammates who testified include Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie.
"Different categories of eyewitness, documentary, first-hand, scientific, direct and circumstantial evidence reveal conclusive and undeniable proof that brings to the light of day for the first time this systemic, sustained and highly professionalised team-run doping conspiracy," Tygart said.
Banned for life
Armstrong was banned for life by USADA and stripped of his seven Tour de France triumphs from 1999-2005 after declining the chance to challenge the doping charges against him before a USADA arbitration panel.
Armstrong, who has denied any wrongoding, said he was weary of years of allegations against him and tired of fighting, instead hoping to focus on his Livestrong foundation and anti-cancer fundraising activities.
The decision not to press ahead with a defense against the charges and take the chance to contest the evidence against him came after Armstrong lost a legal fight in US court to challenge USADA's system of hearing doping appeals.
"Lance Armstrong was given the same opportunity to come forward and be part of the solution. He rejected it," Tygart said. "Instead he exercised his legal right not to contest the evidence and knowingly accepted the imposition of a ban from recognised competition for life and disqualification of his competitive results from 1998 forward."
The UCI has challenged USADA's authority to bring charges against Armstrong but WADA backed USADA's jurisdiction and power to press the case. The UCI could appeal the sanctions against Armstrong to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Three US Postal team members — director Johan Bruyneel, doctor Pedro Celaya and trainer Jose Marti — have chosen to contest the charges and face a public hearing on the matter, likely later this year.
A letter from Armstrong attorney Tim Herman to USADA on Tuesday attacked the report by saying it would not include all details uncovered in the probe. "USADA will no doubt accept the stories told by Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton as gospel," Herman wrote.
"A reasoned decision would include all prior inconsistent statements by these witnesses."
But USADA also cites such documents as financial payments and emails as well as scientific data and laboratory test results to show Armstrong used and distributed performance-enhancing drugs.
"[Evidence does] confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding," Tygart said.
Tygart said the programme was designed to evade detection as well as pressure athletes into taking drugs and maintain a "code of silence" about the activities.
"We always hoped this investigation would bring to a close this troubling chapter in cycling's history and we hope the sport will use this tragedy to prevent it from ever happening again," Tygart said.
Tygart called upon the UCI to encourage riders to reveal the truth and not be "chained to the past forever".
"We believe that allowing individuals to come forward and acknowledge the truth about their past doping may be the only way to truly dismantle the remaining system that allowed this 'EPO and Blood Doping Era' to flourish.
"The riders who participated in the USPS Team doping conspiracy and truthfully assisted have been courageous in making the choice to stop perpetuating the sporting fraud, and they have suffered greatly." – Sapa-AFP