Throughout his career, Lance Armstrong always responded to doping accusations by saying he had been tested for banned substances hundreds of times and never produced a positive result. How could the world’s greatest cyclist, always in the cross hairs of doping officials, never fail a drug test if he was doping, Armstrong reasoned.
An explanation emerged Wednesday, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released its dossier on Armstrong, citing witness testimony, financial records and laboratory results. Armstrong was centrally involved in a sprawling, sophisticated doping program, the agency said, yet he employed both cunning and farcical methods to beat the sport’s drug-testing system.
The report also introduced new scientific evidence that the agency said suggested Armstrong was doping the last two times he competed in the Tour de France.
“It has been a frequent refrain of Armstrong and his representatives over the years that Lance Armstrong has never had a positive drug test," the report said. “That does not mean, however, he did not dope. Nor has Armstrong apparently had nearly as many doping tests as his representatives have claimed."
As part of its investigation, USADA asked Christopher Gore, the head of physiology at the Australian Institute of Sport, to analyze test results from 38 blood samples taken from Armstrong between February 2009 and the end of last April. Those taken during the 2009 and 2010 Tours, the report said, showed blood values whose likelihood “of occurring naturally was less than one in a million" and other indications of blood doping.
While Gore’s analysis was not a conventional anti-doping test, USADA concluded that the findings “build a compelling argument consistent with blood doping."
The techniques used by Armstrong and his teammates to elude positive tests were widely used by many cyclists, and many believe those tactics are still in use today. They often exploited weaknesses in the anti-doping system, many of which still persist. The most basic technique outlined in the report, based on affidavits from some of Armstrong’s former teammates, was simply running away or hiding.
To facilitate out-of-competition testing, professional cyclists are required to inform their national anti-doping agencies of their locations at all times. Riders who receive three warnings in an 18-month period for either not providing their whereabouts accurately or not filing the information at all can be punished as if they had a positive drug test.
Noting that “the adequacy of unannounced, no-notice testing taking place in the sport of cycling remains a concern," USADA outlined several methods used by Armstrong and his teammates to circumvent the system. The simplest was pretending not to be home when the testers arrived. As long as they were in the city they had reported as their locations, the riders found they would not receive a warning for not answering the door.
The agency compared the whereabouts information it received from Armstrong over the years with messages between Armstrong and Michele Ferrari, a sports medicine doctor who is also a target of the doping investigation. There were revealing discrepancies, the report said.
Travel plans that Armstrong conveyed months in advance to Ferrari through training and racing diaries were submitted to USADA weeks later, sometimes the day he made the trip. While those last-minute changes did not break any rules, they frustrated the agency’s testing plans. The doping agency also found that Armstrong often stayed at a remote hotel in Spain where he “was virtually certain not to be tested."
According to the report, Armstrong abruptly dropped out of one race after his teammate George Hincapie warned him through a text message that drug testers were at the team’s hotel. Armstrong had, Hincapie said in an affidavit, just taken a solution containing olive oil and testosterone.
Riders on Armstrong’s team, the agency said, also kept a constant lookout for testers and relayed information about them to one another. Team officials often seemed to know when a supposedly unannounced drug test would occur.
When the testers could not be avoided, Armstrong and his teammates turned to drug masking, according to the report. The report indicated that during the 1998 world championships, testers were diverted to other riders on the U.S. team while one of Armstrong’s doctors “smuggled a bag of saline under his raincoat, getting it past the tester and administering saline to Armstrong before Armstrong was required to provide a blood sample." The saline infusion restored Armstrong’s blood values to a level that would not attract attention.
The report also showed how Armstrong, often in conjunction with Ferrari and the team director Johan Bruyneel, was careful to use techniques and drugs that were untraceable through tests.
During his first Tour de France victory, in 1999, Armstrong’s drug of choice was the blood-boosting hormone known as EPO, according to the sworn affidavits. At that time, there was no test for EPO, which is a cloned form of human hormone rather than a synthetic product.
When rumors began circulating about the arrival of a test for EPO, Armstrong and some of his teammates switched to withdrawing and then reinfusing their own blood. Again, it was a technique initially without a test. Ferrari also discovered that when regular, if small, doses of EPO were injected directly into veins rather than under the skin, Armstrong and others could continue using the hormone without fear of a positive test result, the report said.
Armstrong and his teammates also learned from Ferrari that the test for testosterone was not highly sensitive and caught only those who consumed large amounts of it or carelessly used it at times of the day when testing was likely. A test for human growth hormone, another banned substance with a following among members of the Postal Service team, was introduced only this year at the London Olympics.