Verbruggen denies accusations he was part of cover up
Former UCI president implicated by disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong
Hein Verbruggen: “I have never acted in an inappropriate manner and my conscience is clear.” Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
The former UCI president Hein Verbruggen could be called before the independent commission investigating cycling’s doping past after the disgraced former Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong directly implicated him in a cover-up of his test for corticosteroids during the 1999 Tour de France.
Armstrong, speaking to the Daily Mail as he prepares the ground for a possible appearance before the commission, and amid debate over whether his lifetime ban should be reduced if he tells all he knows, said that Verbruggen told him and his team to “come up with something”. Verbruggen recently denied any inappropriate behaviour and stated squarely that “the UCI never protected Armstrong”.
In an email exchange with the Daily Telegraph on Monday Verbruggen reiterated that he had nothing to hide and was more than happy to be investigated. He wrote: “An IC [independent commission] has never been a problem for me. There was nothing to cover up.” In a separate text message sent to the Dutch TV channel NOS, he added: “Since when does one believe Lance Armstrong?” Verbruggen went on to say: “His story is illogical because it was not a positive/anti-doping offence, in the opinion of the competent authority. That authority was not the UCI, but the French Ministry. After allegations a year back of a large-scale complicity at the UCI over doping by Lance Armstrong and his team, we are now back to a cortisone-case from 1999 that wasn’t even from the UCI.”
The UCI issued a statement which suggested Verbruggen could be invited to appear before the commission being set up by its new president, Brian Cookson. The statement read: “The UCI’s Independent Commission of Inquiry is in the process of being set up and we are in advanced discussions with stakeholders on its terms of reference to allow full investigation of any allegations relating to doping and wrongdoing at the UCI.
“The commission will invite individuals to provide evidence and we would urge all those involved to come forward and help the commission in its work in the best interests of the sport of cycling.”
At the time of Armstrong’s positive test cycling was recovering from the Festina doping scandal of 1998 and banning the yellow jersey of the Tour in the 1999 race would have been highly damaging to the sport. Armstrong stated: “The real problem was, the sport was on life support. And Hein just said: ‘This is a real problem for me. This is the knockout punch for our sport, the year after Festina, so we’ve got to come up with something.’ So we backdated the prescription.”
He added: “What I remember was there being a problem. I’m not sure if it was a positive but there were traces found. I don’t know if it technically crossed the line. But anyway it didn’t matter. I can’t remember exactly who was in the room. But Emma [O’Reilly, his then masseur] has a better memory than I do.”
Asked why he had come up with the fresh claim having previously refused to go into his past allegations that the UCI had colluded in hiding his doping, Armstrong said: “’Man, I’m that busy talking to lawyers and going over things that have happened, I can’t remember what I have and haven’t said. You spend a day in a room with a team of lawyers. It’s like 24-hour root canal.”
The International Olympic Committee said it would await the outcome of the UCI’s inquiry before deciding whether to take any action over Armstrong’s allegations. “It is hard to give any credibility to the claims of a cyclist who appears to have misled the world for decades,” read an IOC statement. “That said, the UCI is currently working on plans to investigate the matter more thoroughly and we await proper considered outcomes from this investigation rather than [ACT]on rumour and accusation.”
Armstrong spoke during a reconciliation with O’Reilly, who was instrumental in revealing the story of the backdated prescription. O’Reilly recalled the affair in David Walsh’s book of 2007, From Lance to Landis, stating that the team had been told of the positive test 12 days before it was made public.
The corticosteroid was detected in a sample from July 4th, after the first road race stage of the Tour, when Armstrong was wearing the yellow jersey. The test was newly instituted that year and found minute traces of the substance triamcinolone
O’Reilly added: “At one stage, two of the team officials were in the room with Lance. They were all talking. ‘What are we going to do, what are we going to do? Let’s keep this quiet, let’s stick together. Let’s not panic. Let’s all leave here with the same story.’ There was a real sense that the shit was about to hit the fan and they had to come up with an explanation.”
It was decided to use a backdated prescription stating that the substance had originated from a skin cream being used by Armstrong to treat a saddle sore. O’Reilly recalled: “Later that night there was a mad scramble to get [the team doctor] to write the medical prescription.”
On July 22nd 1999, after the Le Monde newspaper revealed the positive test, the UCI issued a statement which read: “At the request of Lance Armstrong and his team, and because of the exceptional situation created by some media, the UCI wishes to make an exception and confirm that the rider has used Cemalyt cream to cure an allergic dermatitis.”
Usually, tests which were covered by a prescription remained confidential, but the UCI confirmed that Armstrong had been tested after the prologue on July 3rd and that the result had been negative. “The rider was again tested on July 4th and minimal traces were detected,” the statement said. The UCI added that the use of cream was “authorised by the rules and cannot be considered doping practice”.
There was a contradiction, however: Armstrong had stated earlier in the race that he was using no banned substances under prescription. At the time, he explained: “I was asked if I had been given exemption by the [governing body] UCI to take banned substances for medical reasons, and I said of course not. When I think of taking something, I think pills, inhalers, injections, I honestly did not consider skin cream to be taking something.” In a now legendary exchange after that day’s stage finish, he asked Le Monde’s journalist: “Are you calling me a doper or a liar?”
Verbruggen retired as the president of the UCI in 2005, but remains an honorary vice president. In an open letter to national cycling federations written earlier this month, he stated that: “I have never been a friend of Lance Armstrong’s or other riders or team managers. I have never said that Lance Armstrong never doped, I only said, in a way that everyone could understand, that Armstrong had never tested positive.”
“The fact that he never tested positive through the UCI or through the French anti-doping authorities, or through USADA or through Wada or through any other organisation, makes a nonsense of any accusations of ‘cover-up’ against me. The UCI never protected Armstrong.
“Every decision about Armstrong and any other cyclist was taken according to established facts and the scientific means available at that given moment. The position of the UCI on the traces of cortisone in his samples at the 1999 Tour de France and the dossier relating to his samples in the Tour of Switzerland 2001 have already been clarified.”
Verbruggen added in the letter: “I have never acted in an inappropriate manner and my conscience is clear.” – Guardian Service