2 riders say they doped as aides to Armstrong

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor

NEW YORK Two of Lance Armstrong's eight teammates from the 1999 Tour de France have admitted for the first time that they used the banned endurance-boosting drug EPO in preparing for the race that year, when they helped Armstrong capture the first of his record seven titles.

Their disclosures, in interviews with The New York Times, are rare examples of candor in a sport protected by a powerful code of silence. Their confessions come as cycling is reeling from doping scandals, including Floyd Landis's fall in July from Tour champion to suspected cheater.
One of the two teammates who admitted using EPO while on Armstrong's United States Postal Service team is Frankie Andreu, a 39-year-old retired team captain who had been part of Armstrong's inner circle for more than a decade. In an interview at his home in Dearborn, Michigan, Andreu said he took EPO for only a few races and acknowledged his use because he thinks doping is damaging his sport. Continued doping and denial by riders might scare away fans and sponsors for good, he said.
"There are two levels of guys," Andreu said. "You got the guys that cheat and guys that are just trying to survive."
The other rider who said he used EPO spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said he did not want to jeopardize his job in cycling.
"The environment was certainly one of, to be accepted, you had to use doping products," he said. "There was very high pressure to be one of the cool kids."
Both riders never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and both said they never saw Armstrong take any banned substances.
Armstrong, who turns 35 next week, has long been dogged by accusations that he doped before and after his remarkable recovery from cancer, which made him a transcendent cultural figure and symbol to cancer patients and survivors worldwide. He has repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing drugs and has aggressively defended himself in interviews and through lawsuits.
Multiple attempts to interview Armstrong for this article were unsuccessful. His agent, Bill Stapleton, wrote in an e-mail message Monday that Armstrong was unavailable for comment because he was attending a meeting of the President's Cancer Panel in Minneapolis.
Armstrong once said that cycling had no secrets and that hard work was the key to winning. Recent events and disclosures, however, demonstrate that cycling does, indeed, have secrets.
Dozens of interviews with people in the sport and a review of court documents in a contract dispute between Armstrong and a company called SCA Promotions reveal the protective silence shared by those in professional cycling. A new picture emerges of a murky world of clandestine meetings, mysterious pills and thermoses that clink with the sound of drug vials rattling inside them.
This year's Tour de France began with a doping investigation that implicated nearly 60 riders and ended with Landis testing positive for synthetic testosterone. He became the third of Armstrong's former lieutenants to fail drug tests after setting off on their own careers as lead riders.
"There's no doubt that cyclists have bought into the institutional culture of cheating, and that's a big, big problem for the sport," said Steven Ungerleider, a research psychologist, anti-doping expert and consultant for college, Olympic and professional sports organizations. He described that culture as "a mob psychology."
In his 12 years as a professional cyclist, Andreu was a "domestique," a worker bee whose job was to shield a top rider like Armstrong from the wind and help him win.
He said his introduction to performance-enhancing drugs came in 1995 when he and Armstrong were with the Motorola team. He said some of the riders felt that they could no longer compete with some European teams that had rapidly improved and were rumored to be using EPO.
Motorola's top riders asked their doctor, Massimo Testa, about the drug's safety because riders in Europe had begun to die mysteriously during workouts or in their sleep.
Testa, now a sports medicine specialist at the University of California at Davis, said in a telephone interview that he gave each rider literature about EPO, in case they decided to use it on their own. He said that he urged them not to take the drug, but that he wanted them to be educated.
"If you want to use a gun, you had better use a manual, rather than to ask the guy on the street how to use it," he said. "I cannot rule out that someone did it."
One of Armstrong's teammates, Steve Swart, discussed the Motorola team in the book "L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong," which was published in 2004, only in French.
The book's allegations that Armstrong doped prompted the lawsuit between Armstrong and SCA Promotions, which was settled out of court in February. SCA withheld a $5 million bonus from Armstrong after he won the 2004 Tour de France because of his suspected drug use. Armstrong and Tailwind Sports, the company that owned his cycling team, sued SCA for the money.
In the court case, Swart, a retired rider from New Zealand, said top riders on Motorola discussed EPO in 1995. He testified that Armstrong told teammates that there was "only one road to take" to be competitive. In a sworn deposition, Swart said the meaning of Armstrong's comment was clear: "We needed to start a medical program of EPO."
EPO, cortisone and testosterone were common in European cycling, Swart said in a telephone interview. He said using cortisone, a steroid, was regarded as "sucking on a candy stick." Cyclists acquired the drugs from European pharmacies and took them in private, Swart said. "You basically became your own doctor," he said.
He said signs of drug use were widespread at the 1994 and 1995 Tours, and there was no test for EPO at the time.
"Everyone was walking around with their own thermos, and you could hear the sound, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, coming from the thermoses because they were filled with ice and vials of EPO," Swart said. "You needed to keep the EPO cold, and every night at the hotel, the guys would be running around trying to find some ice to fill up their thermos."
In the weeks before the 1999 Tour, Andreu's wife, Betsy, found one of those thermoses in her refrigerator. She was furious. "I remember Frankie saying, 'You don't understand, this is the only way I can even finish the Tour,'" she said. "After this, I promise you, I'll never do it again."
Betsy Andreu said she begrudgingly watched her husband help Armstrong traverse the mountains at the Tour that year. Later, she said, she was angry when her husband said he had once allowed a team doctor to inject him with an unidentified substance.
To this day, she blames Armstrong for what she said was pressure on teammates, including her husband, to use drugs. "He didn't use EPO for himself, because as a domestique, he was never going to win that race," she said, referring to her husband's role. "It was for Lance."
Three years earlier, she and Frankie, who were engaged at the time, visited Armstrong at an Indiana hospital after he had received his cancer diagnosis. Under court order to testify in the SCA Promotions case, they said that they overheard Armstrong tell doctors he had used steroids, testosterone, cortisone, growth hormone and EPO.
Armstrong testified that no one at the hospital asked him if he had used performance-enhancing drugs. He testified that Betsy Andreu lied because "she hates me," and that Frankie Andreu lied because "he's trying to back up his old lady."
Frankie Andreu testified that he never knew if Armstrong was doping. But once, he testified, he saw Armstrong sorting "little round pills" on his bed before a race. "He talked about that he would take these at different parts during the race," Andreu said under oath, adding that he did not know what the pills were. Armstrong testified that they were caffeine.
Johan Bruyneel, the longtime director of Armstrong's team, did not respond to an interview request through a team spokesman.
At this year's Tour, Armstrong said his opponents in the SCA case were "crushed - totally crushed" upon cross-examination.
Sean Breen, one of Armstrong's lawyers, said the opposing witnesses were not credible. In the case of Betsy Andreu, Breen said: "Like her testimony, I think her motives are completely unexplainable." He added that Frankie Andreu's dismissal as a rider on the Postal Service team after the 2000 season might have been one reason for their testimony. (Andreu later returned to the team as the American director.)
Armstrong has said he never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.