Although cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to doping in a much-anticipated interview, he denied testing positive for illegal substances at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland and to paying the Swiss-based International Cycling Union (UCI) to cover it up.
Questions had swirled over whether a $125,000 (SFr117,000) donation Armstrong had made to the UCI was cover-up money to sweep a positive test for the illegal blood-boosting EPO hormone under the rug in 2001.
The test, which was conducted as part of the 2001 Tour of Switzerland by the Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses (LAD) in Lausanne, was alleged by some of Armstrong’s fellow cyclists to have been positive but covered up by both the testing lab and UCI officials.
“That story isn’t true,” Armstrong told talk show host Oprah Winfrey in the first of a two-part interview that aired on Thursday in the United States. “There was no positive test. No paying off of the lab. The UCI did not make that go away.”
Lab director weighs in
LAD director Martial Saugy last week denied giving Armstrong information in an allegedly secret meeting about how to beat EPO tests in 2002. And on Friday, Saugy told swissinfo.ch that Armstrong told the truth about his lab’s lack of involvement in a cover-up.
“It was a meeting, but it was in a professional environment and so it was no secret meeting between him and myself to explain the keys to escape from the controls [to avoid being caught],” Saugy said.
He added that Armstrong’s revelations demonstrate the constant race between the athletes who dope and the scientific methods designed to catch them. For Saugy, the way to protect the future of the sport is to learn from the past.
“It’s really a question of dealing with the detection window, the dosage and the time of the testing,” he said. “So what has changed from [when Armstrong was doping] is really that now, the approach in the collection of samples is much more clever and sophisticated.”
For example, the development of the EPO test in 2000 allowed for retroactive tests, such as the one that showed Armstrong had used EPO in 1999.
Saugy cites the 2008 launch of the “biometric passport” system of athlete testing as an example of how technology is catching up with cheats. The system is designed to make a long-term profile of each athlete’s test results to better detect anomalies. The UCI currently uses the biometric passport, according to Saugy.
The UCI donation
The UCI president said in a media statement that “Lance Armstrong confirmed that there was no collusion or conspiracy between the UCI and [himself]. No positive controls were covered up and he confirmed that donations to the UCI were intended to support the fight against doping”.
When pressed, Armstrong told Winfrey that he had made a donation to the UCI because he had heard the organisation “needed money”. However, he also said he was “no fan” of the UCI.
During the first part of his interview with Winfrey, Armstrong admitted to using cortisone, EPO, blood transfusions and testosterone to boost his performance at various points in his career between the mid-1990s and 2005.
Armstrong was responding to accusations in a report by the US Anti-Doping Administration (USADA) stating that he and his teammates had been part of one of the most sophisticated doping programmes in the history of the sport.