Irish aide to Armstrong helped teams avoid drug search
AN IRISH woman who worked for disgraced US cyclist Lance Armstrong claims she persuaded Customs officers not to search team cars for drugs as they arrived in Dublin for the start of the 1998 Tour de France.
Dubliner Emma O’Reilly worked as a massage therapist and senior aide to Armstrong, who faces having his record seven Tour de France titles stripped from him following an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada).
Ms O’Reilly is one of several former teammates or aides to Armstrong who provided evidence to Usada of Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs.
Usada’s report into Armstrong was published by the US agency this week when it was sent to cycling’s world governing body, the UCI.
In her affidavit, published by Usada this week, Ms O’Reilly explains how she talked Irish Customs officers out of searching the team cars arriving in Dublin.
She said because she was from Dublin she had travelled home to see her family before the Tour de France started in the city on July 11th, 1998. She had arranged to meet the team off the ferry when it arrived in Dublin from Belgium days before the race started. “The ferry was scheduled to arrive at the port after midnight, so I was surprised when Customs agents showed up to meet the ferry to carry out searches of team vehicles,” she says. “I convinced the Customs agents to leave by explaining they would have a riot on their hands if they tried to search the trucks at 2am and that any search they felt was necessary could just as easily occur in the morning. Later that same morning was when word of Willy Voet’s arrest started to make its way around the Tour de France.”
Voet was a helper with leading French team Festina who was stopped by Customs offers on the French-Belgian border and his car found to contain massive quantities of performance-enhancing drugs.
Voet was on his way to catch the ferry, organised for the team cars, to bring the drugs to Ireland for the team. The seizure of the drugs forced Festina out of the Tour de France and resulted in the biggest doping scandal to hit cycling at that time.
Ms O’Reilly (42) did not return calls from The Irish Times last night asking her to expand on the evidence in her affidavit. She rose to the position of “head soigneur” with Armstrong’s US Postal Service Team, which involved looking after the team’s massages, accommodation and meal logistics and co-ordinating other staff who acted as team helpers when the riders were competing.
Now living in Manchester and no longer involved in cycling, she works as a self-employed massage therapist.
In her evidence Ms O’Reilly documents how a team vehicle for Armstrong’s US Postal Team was carrying large quantities of drugs during the 1998 Tour de France.
She said when the race left Ireland for France the team became concerned the police would search other team vehicles following the Festina drug seizure. A decision was taken to flush performance-enhancing drugs worth $25,000 down a toilet on a team bus in a field in France and to then dump the contents of the toilet into the field.
Ms O’Reilly also said that in 1999 she transported “pills” from Spain to France, hand delivering them to Armstrong. She said she believed they were performance enhancing.
The president of the UCI is Irish man Pat McQuaid, who was behind bringing the Tour de France to Ireland in 1998 and has defended Armstrong in the past. The UCI is reviewing the Usada report and must decide if it will enforce the US agency’s lifetime ban from competition on the American and strip him of his results, including his seven Tour de France wins.