For much of the second phase of his career, Cyclist Lance Armstrong faced constant allegations of doping. Armstrong consistently denied allegations of doping until a partial confession during a broadcast interview with Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.
Armstrong has been criticized for his disagreements with outspoken opponents of doping such as Paul Kimmage and Christophe Bassons. Bassons wrote a number of articles for a French newspaper during the 1999 Tour de France which made references to doping in the peloton. Subsequently, Armstrong had an altercation with Bassons during the 1999 Tour de France where Bassons said Armstrong rode up alongside on the Alpe d'Huez stage to tell him "it was a mistake to speak out the way I (Bassons) do and he (Armstrong) asked why I was doing it. I told him that I'm thinking of the next generation of riders. Then he said 'Why don't you leave, then?'"
Armstrong later confirmed Bassons's story. On the main evening news on TF1, a French television station, Armstrong said: "His accusations aren't good for cycling, for his team, for me, for anybody. If he thinks cycling works like that, he's wrong and he would be better off going home". Kimmage, a professional cyclist in the 1980s who later became a sports journalist, referred to Armstrong as a "cancer in cycling". He also asked Armstrong questions in relation to his "admiration for dopers" at a press conference at the Tour of California in 2009, provoking a scathing reaction from Armstrong. This spat continued and is exemplified by Kimmage's articles in "The Sunday Times".
Another notable critic of Armstrong was David Walsh, also a reporter for "The Sunday Times". Referred to as a "little troll" by Armstrong, Walsh revealed in a 2001 "Sunday Times" story that he had ties to controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari. Two years later, Walsh's book "L.A. Confidentiel" alleged, based on testimony by Armstrong's former masseuse Emma O'Reilly, that clandestine trips were made to pick up and deliver doping products to Armstrong's team.
Until his 2013 admission, Armstrong continually denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs and described himself as the most tested athlete in the world. However, a 1999 urine sample showed traces of corticosteroid; a medical certificate showed he used an approved cream for saddle sores which contained the substance. O'Reilly claimed that team officials conspired with a compliant doctor to falsify Armstrong's prescription, and that Armstrong never had the condition. She also claimed that, on other occasions, she was asked to dispose of used syringes for Armstrong and pick up strange parcels for the team.
From his return to cycling in the fall of 2008 through March 2009, Armstrong submitted to twenty-four unannounced drug tests by various anti-doping authorities. All of the tests were negative for performance-enhancing drugs.
U.S. federal prosecutors pursued allegations of doping by Armstrong from 2010–2012. The effort convened a grand jury to investigate doping charges, including taking statements under oath from Armstrong's former team members and other associates; met with officials from France, Belgium, Spain, and Italy; and requested samples from the French anti-doping agency. The investigation was led by federal agent Jeff Novitzky, who also investigated suspicions of steroid use by baseball players Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The probe was terminated on February 3, 2012 with no charges filed.
Tyler Hamilton, a professional cyclist who rode as Lance Armstrong's principal Domestique on the U.S. Postal Cycling team from 1999 through 2001, has extensively documented the history and methods of doping by Armstrong, himself, and others in "The Secret Race", a book co-authored with Daniel Coyle and published in 2012. The book also describes the investigation by Jeff Novitzky and the Food and Drug Administration and Hamilton's befuddlement that the investigation was dropped.
Background | Specific allegations | 1995–2005
Armstrong faced accusations of doping as early as the 1999 Tour de France. Specifically, many European papers contended his victory in Stage 9, in which he seemingly ascended the Alps with almost no difficulty, could not have been possible through natural means. Armstrong adamantly denied this, and the American press generally supported him. Armstrong contended, among other things, that it would have made no sense for him to dope since he lived in France for most of the year; France has some of the strictest anti-doping laws in the world.
Armstrong was criticized for working with controversial Italian trainer Michele Ferrari. Ferrari claimed that he was introduced to Lance by Eddy Merckx in 1995. Greg LeMond described himself as "devastated" on hearing of them working together, while Tour de France organizer Jean-Marie Leblanc said, "I am not happy the two names are mixed." Following Ferrari's later-overturned conviction for "sporting fraud" and "abuse of the medical profession", Armstrong suspended his professional relationship with him, saying that he had "zero tolerance for anyone convicted of using or facilitating the use of performance-enhancing drugs" and denying that Ferrari had ever "suggested, prescribed or provided me with any performance-enhancing drugs."
Ferrari was later absolved of all charges by an Italian appeals court of the sporting fraud charges as well as charges of abusing his medical license to write prescriptions. The court stated that it overturned his conviction "because the facts do not exist" to support the charges. Ferrari, however, is still banned from practicing medicine with cyclists by the Italian Cycling Federation. According to Italian authorities, Armstrong met with Ferrari as recently as 2010 in a country outside of Italy.
In 2004, Walsh and fellow reporter Pierre Ballester published a French-language book alleging Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs, entitled "L. A. Confidentiel – Les secrets de Lance Armstrong". The book contains allegations by Emma O'Reilly that Armstrong once asked her to dispose of used syringes and to give him makeup to conceal needle marks on his arms. Another figure in the book, Steve Swart, claims he and other riders, including Armstrong, began using drugs in 1995 while members of the Motorola team, a claim denied by other team members.
Allegations in the book were reprinted in the British newspaper "The Sunday Times" in a story by deputy sports editor Alan English in June 2004. Armstrong sued for libel, and the paper settled out of court after a High Court judge in a pre-trial ruling stated that the article "meant accusation of guilt and not simply reasonable grounds to suspect." The newspaper's lawyers stated, ""The Sunday Times" has confirmed to Mr. Armstrong that it never intended to accuse him of being guilty of taking any performance-enhancing drugs and sincerely apologized for any such impression." Ballester and Walsh subsequently published "L.A. Official" and "Le Sale Tour" ("The Dirty Trick"), further pressing their claims that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.
On March 31, 2005, Mike Anderson filed a brief in Travis County District Court in Texas, as part of a legal battle following his termination in November 2004 as an employee of Armstrong. Anderson worked for Armstrong for two years as a personal assistant. In the brief, Anderson claimed that he discovered a box of androstenone while cleaning a bathroom in Armstrong's apartment in Girona, Spain. Androstenone is not on the list of banned drugs. Anderson stated in a subsequent deposition that he had no direct knowledge of Armstrong using a banned substance. Armstrong denied the claim and issued a counter-suit. The two men reached an out-of-court settlement in November 2005; the terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Background | Specific allegations | 2006–2008
In June 2006, French newspaper "Le Monde" reported claims by Betsy and Frankie Andreu during a deposition that Armstrong had admitted using performance-enhancing drugs to his physician just after brain surgery in 1996. The Andreus' testimony was related to litigation between Armstrong and SCA Promotions, a Texas insurer who balked at paying a $5 million bonus for Armstrong's sixth Tour victory due to the claims raised in "L. A. Confidentiel." This was settled out of court with SCA paying Armstrong and Tailwind Sports $7.5 million, to cover the $5-million bonus plus interest and lawyers' fees. Betsy Andreu's testimony stated, "And so the doctor asked him a few questions, not many, and then one of the questions he asked was... have you ever used any performance-enhancing drugs? And Lance said yes. And the doctor asked, what were they? And Lance said, growth hormone, cortisone, EPO, steroids and testosterone."
Armstrong suggested Betsy Andreu may have been confused by possible mention of his "post-operative treatment" which included steroids and EPO that are taken to counteract wasting and red-blood-cell-destroying effects of intensive chemotherapy. The Andreus' allegation was not supported by the eight other people present, including Armstrong's doctor Craig Nichols, or his medical history. According to Greg LeMond, he had recorded a conversation, transcribed for review by National Public Radio, in which Armstrong's contact at Oaklety, Inc., Stephanie McIlvain, corroborated Betsy Andreu's account. However, McIlvain contradicted LeMond's allegations and denied under oath that the incident ever occurred.
In July 2006, the "Los Angeles Times" published a story on the allegations raised in the SCA case. The report cited evidence at the trial including the results of the LNDD test and an analysis of these results by an expert witness. According to the "Times", Australian researcher Michael Ashenden testified that Armstrong's levels rose and fell, consistent with a series of injections during the 1999 Tour. Ashenden, a paid expert retained by SCA Promotions, told arbitrators the results painted a "compelling picture" that the world's most famous cyclist "used EPO in the '99 Tour."
SCA president Bob Hamman knew his chances of winning the suit were slim, since the language in SCA's contract with Armstrong stipulated that the money had to be paid. However, he believed that the testimony and evidence would prove that Armstrong was a doper, and would be enough to trigger an investigation by sporting authorities. His hunch proved right; before the "Times" ran its story on the case, United States Anti-Doping Agency general counsel Travis Tygart contacted Hamman and asked to see the evidence he'd gleaned.
Background | Specific allegations | 2009–2011
Ashenden's findings were disputed by the Vrijman report, which pointed to procedural and privacy issues in dismissing the LNDD test results. The "Los Angeles Times" article also provided information on testimony given by Swart, the Andreus, and an instant messaging conversation between Frankie Andreu and Jonathan Vaughters regarding blood-doping in the peloton. Vaughters signed a statement disavowing the comments and stating he had "no personal knowledge that any team in the Tour de France, including Armstrong's Discovery team in 2005, engaged in any prohibited conduct whatsoever." Andreu signed a statement affirming the conversation took place as indicated on the instant messaging logs submitted to the court. The SCA trial was settled out of court, and while no verdict or finding of facts was rendered, Armstrong regarded the outcome as proof that the doping allegations were baseless.
On May 20, 2010, former U.S. Postal teammate Floyd Landis – who had previously been stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title after a positive drug test – accused Armstrong of doping in 2002 and 2003. Landis also claimed that U.S. Postal team director Johan Bruyneel had bribed former UCI president Hein Verbruggen to keep quiet about a positive Armstrong test in 2002. Landis admitted there was no documentation supporting his claims. However, in July 2010 the president of the UCI, Pat McQuaid, revealed that Armstrong made two donations to the UCI: $25,000 in 2002, used by the juniors anti-doping program, and $100,000 in 2005, to buy a blood testing machine, and documentation of those payments did exist.
Landis also maintained that he witnessed Armstrong receiving multiple blood transfusions, and dispensing testosterone patches to his teammates. On May 25, 2010, the UCI disputed Landis's claims, insisting that "none of the tests revealed the presence of EPO in the samples taken from riders at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland." According to ESPN, "Landis claimed that Armstrong tested positive while winning in 2002, a timeline Armstrong himself said left him 'confused,' because he did not compete in the event in 2002."
In May 2011, former Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton told CBS News that he and Armstrong had together taken EPO before and during the 1999, 2000, and 2001 Tours de France. Armstrong's attorney, Mark Fabiani, responded that Hamilton was lying. The accompanying "60 Minutes" investigation alleged that two other former Armstrong teammates, Frankie Andreu and George Hincapie, have told federal investigators that they witnessed Armstrong taking banned substances, including EPO, or supplied Armstrong with such substances.
Fabiani stated in response that, "We have no way of knowing what happened in the grand jury and so can't comment on these anonymously sourced reports." Hamilton further claimed that Armstrong tested positive for EPO during the 2001 Tour de Suisse; "60 Minutes" reported that the Union Cycliste Internationale intervened to conceal those test results, and that donations from Armstrong totaling US$125,000 may have played into said actions.
Martial Saugy, chief of the Swiss anti-doping agency, later confirmed that they found four urine samples suspicious of EPO use at the 2001 race, but said there was no "positive test" and claimed not to know whether the suspicious results belonged to Armstrong. As a result, Armstrong's lawyers demanded an apology from "60 Minutes". Instead of apologizing, CBS News chairman Jeff Fager said CBS News stands by its report as "truthful, accurate and fair", and added that the suspicious tests which Saugy confirmed to exist have been linked to Armstrong "by a number of international officials".
Background | Specific allegations | 2012
On February 2, 2012, U.S. federal prosecutors officially dropped their criminal investigation with no charges.
Interviewed for "Hardtalk" on the BBC News channel, Hamilton again insisted that he and Armstrong had routinely doped together. Dismissing the fact that Armstrong had passed numerous drug tests, Hamilton said that he himself had also passed hundreds of drug tests while doped.
In the 2012 documentary "The World According to Lance Armstrong", the attorney Jeffrey Tillotson states that he thinks the evidence he and his team developed showed that Armstrong had been using performance-enhancing drugs dating back to the beginning of his career. Tillotson was engaged by an insurer that unsuccessfully tried to refuse to pay Armstrong five million USD in bonuses for Armstrongs performance in the Tour de France in 2006, based on their collection of evidence on Armstrong using performance-enhancing drugs.
On October 10, 2012, the U.S. anti-Doping Agency said Armstrong was part of "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen," in advance of issuing its long-awaited report detailing the evidence it acquired. In December 2012, Armstrong and his attorney Tim Herman held a secret meeting at the Denver offices of former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, in an attempt to negotiate a reduction of Armstrong's lifetime ban down to one year. But the talks fell apart when Armstrong refused to cooperate with U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart.
1999 Tour de France urine tests
On August 23, 2005, "L'Équipe", a major French daily sports newspaper, reported on its front page under the headline "le mensonge Armstrong" ("The Armstrong Lie") that 6 urine samples taken from the cyclist during the prologue and five stages of the 1999 Tour de France, frozen and stored since at "Laboratoire national de dépistage du dopage de Châtenay-Malabry" (LNDD), had tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO) in recent retesting conducted as part of a research project into EPO testing methods.
Armstrong immediately replied on his website, saying, "Unfortunately, the witch hunt continues and tomorrow's article is nothing short of tabloid journalism. The paper even admits in its own article that the science in question here is faulty and that I have no way to defend myself. They state: 'There will therefore be no counter-exam nor regulatory prosecutions, in a strict sense, since defendant's rights cannot be respected.' I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance enhancing drugs."
In October 2008, the AFLD gave Armstrong the opportunity to have samples taken during the 1999 Tours de France retested. Armstrong immediately refused, saying, "the samples have not been maintained properly." Head of AFLD Pierre Bordry stated: "Scientifically there is no problem to analyze these samples – everything is correct" and "If the analysis is clean it would have been very good for him. But he doesn't want to do it and that's his problem."
In October 2005, in response to calls from the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for an independent investigation, the UCI appointed Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman to investigate the handling of urine tests by the French national anti-doping laboratory, LNDD. Vrijman was head of the Dutch anti-doping agency for ten years; since then he has worked as a defense attorney defending high-profile athletes against doping charges. Vrijman's report cleared Armstrong because of improper handling and testing. The report said tests on urine samples were conducted improperly and fell so short of scientific standards that it was "completely irresponsible" to suggest they "constitute evidence of anything."
The recommendation of the commission's report was no disciplinary action against any rider on the basis of LNDD research. It also called upon the WADA and LNDD to submit themselves to an investigation by an outside independent authority. The WADA rejected these conclusions stating "The Vrijman report is so lacking in professionalism and objectivity that it borders on farcical." The IOC Ethics Commission subsequently censured Dick Pound, the President of WADA and a member of the IOC, for his statements in the media that suggested wrongdoing by Armstrong.
In April 2009, Ashenden said that "the LNDD absolutely had no way of knowing athlete identity from the sample they're given. They have a number on them, but that's never linked to an athlete's name. The only group that had both the number and the athlete's name is the federation, in this case it was the UCI." He added "There was only two conceivable ways that synthetic EPO could've gotten into those samples. One, is that Lance Armstrong used EPO during the '99 Tour. The other way it could've got in the urine was if, as Lance Armstrong seems to believe, the laboratory spiked those samples. Now, that's an extraordinary claim, and there's never ever been any evidence the laboratory has ever spiked an athlete's sample, even during the Cold War, where you would've thought there was a real political motive to frame an athlete from a different country. There's never been any suggestion that it happened."
Dr. Michael Ashenden's statements are at odds with the findings of the Vrijman report. "According to Mr. Ressiot, the manner in which the LNDD had structured the results table of its report – i.e. listing the sequence of each of the batches, as well as the exact number of urine samples per batch, in the same (chronological) order as the stages of the 1999 Tour de France they were collected at – was already sufficient to allow him to determine the exact stage these urine samples referred to and subsequently the identity of the riders who were tested at that stage." The Vrijman report also says "Le Monde of July 21 and 23, 1999 reveal that the press knew the contents of original doping forms of the 1999 Tour de France".
2013 confession to doping
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired January 17 and 18, 2013, on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Armstrong confessed that he has used banned performance-enhancing drugs throughout much of his cycling career, most recently in 2005. He admitted that he used erythropoietin and human growth hormone, and that he had blood doped as well as falsifying documents saying he passed drug tests. Doping helped him for each of his seven Tour de France wins, Armstrong told Winfrey. According to USADA, samples from Armstrong taken in 2009 and 2010 as well are "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions". Armstrong is fighting to avoid paying millions of dollars in prize money back.
In a 2016 speech to University of Colorado, Boulder professor Roger A. Pielke, Jr.'s Introduction to Sports Governance class, Armstrong stated he began doping in "late Spring of 1995".