Friday, February 18, 2011

Lance Armstrong Investigation: A Doping History of Lance's Tour Teams

FraudBytes encourages guest posts. The following post was written by Mark Fellows, part owner of Kinetic Cycles in Elk Grove, California. Mark originally wrote this commentary on May 21st, 2010 after Floyd Landis alleged that Lance Armstrong was involved in systematic doping for many years. He has updated the post now that Lance Armstrong has officially retired from racing again.

As I’ve read and listened to the press conferences regarding Floyd Landis's accusations along with the denials, the blogs, and other commentary on Lance Armstrong's involvement in doping, I decided I wanted to take a little different slant and provide a few other things to think about. First, these facts should be read in the following context:

  1. Lance Armstrong was an incredible leader that oversaw every detail of his and his team’s (including teammates) preparations for the Tour de France (hereafter, the Tour).
  2. The Tour team traveled together and lived together (Girona, Spain…and in many cases, the same apartment), raced together, and participated in preparation camps together.
  3. In life, we follow our leaders faithfully, whether it be religious leaders, leaders in business, or leaders in Government…they set the tone for any team or group of people. Armstrong certainly was a great leader that set the direction and the culture at a very young age and throughout his career for Subaru-Montgomery, 7-Eleven, Motorola, US Postal, Discovery Channel, Astana and Radio Shack.
Next, some social observations that I think are important and most people can probably agree with:
  1. Birds of a feather flock together….there are exceptions, but when I was in school (and now for that matter) those who smoked hung out together.  Those who drank, drank together, and those who did pot and other drugs did it together.  If everyone around you is doing it, you probably are doing it too! The opposite is also true...clean kids, hang out with clean kids.
  2. There is very little I don’t know about my college roommates, or best friends that I’ve spent a lot of time with.  Professional cyclists spend entire months together on buses and small hotel rooms.  There will be little, if anything, they will not know about each other. 
  3. It's hard to count the number of denials professional athletes in all sports have made over the years because there have been so many. Victor Conti didn't become a multi-millionaire by helping only one athlete dope: Barry Bonds.  Rather, he was doping hundreds, if not thousands of professional athletes.  He lived in a mansion in some of the priciest real estate in our country!  Doping in professional sports is not an isolated case of a bad apple.
Finally, two facts that also are important to consider in this analysis:
  1. After the 1998 Festina scandal at the Tour, France inacted a law that made the possession or use of performance enhancing drugs a criminal offense.  The US contingent of pro cyclists, moved their home base from Nice, France to Girona, Spain after the law was passed.  Lance Armstrong did the same.
  2. Johan Bruyneel spent the majority of his team racing for Manolo Saiz as part of the ONCE team.  ONCE was the predecessor of Liberty Seguros which was also directed by Saiz.  Saiz was the mastermind behind Operation Puerto--the largest team and professional athlete doping ring ever uncovered.  Liberty Seguros was thrown out of the 2006 Tour for systematic doping.  Most people forget that Saiz also pulled his team out of the 1998 Tour after the Festina scandal broke.  Was it out of fear of being caught? A show of consolidarity to the other team with a systematic doping program? Johan Bruyneel was a member of that Tour team. 
So, with that stated, I went through Lance Armstrong's Seven Tour teams when he won the race (1999-2005) and show the doping history for each teammate; in parentheses next to each rider is the number of years the rider rode with Lance on his winning team.

First, I'll list those who have been implicated in doping or have confessed to doping. Next are those who are arguably very likely to have been involved in doping. Last, will be those not implicated and less likely to have been involved in doping. 
1. Frankie Andreu (2 years) – Admitted doper and testified under oath that Armstrong admitted to doping and doped for the Tour (The most faithful of friends amongst all of Armstrong's teammates with the exception of George Hincapie). 
2. Tyler Hamilton (4 years) – Doper , serving lifetime ban. 
3. Jonathan Vaughters (1 year) – Started TIAA-CREFF that has now become Garmin so young riders wouldn’t have to choose to dope like he admitted to doing earlier in his career.
4. Cedric Vasseur (1 year) – Arrested for doping. 
5. Roberto Heras (2 years) – Confessed and caught doper. 
6. Floyd Landis (3 years) – Doper. 
7. Pavel Padrnos (4 years) – Doper.
8. Manuel Beltran (3 years) – Doper. 
9. Paolo Savoldelli (1 year) – Raced for Telekom before US Postal and Astana after US Postal during years when both teams are known to have had systematic doping practices.
10. Benoit Joachim (2 years) – Caught using nandrolone. As a reader pointed out, "his federation let him off with the ridiculous excuse that too much time had passed between the A and B sample testing." 
The following riders are considered suspects as dopers based on their close association with doping teams and activities or allegations that have been made:
1. Viatcheslav Ekimov (5 years) – Grew up racing in the former Soviet Union…it is believed they doped all their athletes.  Never tested positive though or blatantly linked to doping.

2. Jose Azevedo (2 years) – Raced for Manuel Saiz (AKA – Operacion Puerto) before joining Postal Service - you be the judge, doper or not?

3. Victor Hugo Pena (3 years) – Before joining US Postal he rode for Vitalicio Seguros, a known doping team out of Spain, went to US Postal, and then followed Landis to Phonak and then to Rock Racing….a high probability that he was a doper but he's never been convicted.

4. Jose Luis Rubiera (5 years) – Before joining Postal raced for the Kelme squad which is known to have had systematic doping throughout the team; never been convicted though.
5. Yaroslav Popovych (1 year) – Never convicted of doping but had his home raided as part of Jeffrey Novitsky's investigation with Sports Illustrated reporting that evidence linking Lance Armstrong's teams to doping was found in his home.
6. Christian Vande Velde (2 years) – A reader pointed out that he "rode for Riis at CSC and Saiz at Liberty Seguros," which are two teams with doping problems. The reader also said: "The only doper's paradise that he managed to miss was T-Mobile." As with Azevedo, you be the judge...
So the riders on Armstrong's winning teams that are left are listed below:
1. George Hincapie (7 years) – Accused by Landis.

2. Pascal Derame (1 year) – Apparently clean.

3. Kevin Livingston (2 years) – Apparently clean, but was found in Dr. Ferrari's files and after racing with Postal he raced for Telekom which had a doping program. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

4. Peter Meinert-Nielsen (1 year) – Apparently clean.
5. Steffan Kjaerrgaard (2 years) – Apparently clean.
6. Benjamin Noval (2 years) – Apparently clean.
We can probably debate the categorization of those who were never convicted or admitted to doping but I think there are some who could move up (e.g., Livingston) and some that may have reason to move down. This is an imperfect process but it still can inform us quite a bit.

In the end, of his teammates that were Tour riders, six appear pretty clean or have not been convicted at this point; 10 have been caught doping or admitted to doping and 6 have relatively strong ties to doping or have had strong suspicions of doping.  That makes 16 out of 22 that have either been convicted or have strong ties to doping and if you include Armstrong, that is 17 out of 23.

Thus, almost three-fourths of his closest teammates, that--for several years--lived together, traveled together, raced together, trained together, vacationed together, and who--led by Armstrong--set the tone and team culture....doped! All who were caught, or later admitted to doping, first denied it or claimed they were innocent. You decide what that means but these odds appear against Lance being clean.

Whether innocent or not, what Armstrong has done is remarkable.  What he has done for cancer survivorship, is possibly even greater. Was doping rampant throughout professional cycling? Yes! Is it rampant throughout all professional sports? Of course! Just turn on the NBA Playoffs and look at Kobe Bryant now vs. ten years ago! Cycling is no exception here with almost daily reports of pro cyclists getting caught doping.

Do I believe Armstrong doped? Of course! Have I been inspired by him and even admired him? Of course! In many ways I admire Tyler, Floyd and Lance, because I've been pushed a little farther by their efforts, and will continue to reflect upon their great rides, when I set out on my own rides.

But for years, now, I've looked to a new generation, and am now more excited about cycling than ever before.  Now, I look to Talansky, Stetina, Farrar, Phinney, and others to follow, read about and cheer for.  I'm happy to see Armstrong retire...again...and look forward to Levi, George, and Horner's future retirments.  For me, the younger generation is much more exciting and much more inspiring!

And with great hope, I believe they are clean.


  1. Excellent article until the end where it becomes an apologist for Armstrong's behavior...he was not that remarkable. Don't you think Greg Lemond with blood doping would have accomplished at least 7 tour wins. He was left in the dust in 1991 by a very suspicious Indurain and all of the gruopo. This all reeks and cheating is cheating. How about those who did not have the resources to do what Postal and others were doing. Armstrong would have never ever won perhaps even one TDF without dope. Never mind an even playing field. How can you compare this team to that team when they are not all doping with the same exact schedule and resources. I have read Ulrich's HCT was only 42% at times in the would be interesting to see Armstrongs profiles. I can only hope he is prosecuted and found guilty. That Contador is also banned and the Schlecks caught also...hang 'em high

  2. I appreciate your comment. Certainly not as remarkable as my parents, my wife, or my five kids. I don't mean to apologize for him, but I can think of no one that has brought more awareness to cancer than Mr. Armstrong. Despise him? Sure, go ahead. But I can also find reason to thank him as well. I know lots of great people, but they all have parts of them that I don't really like or admire. I think it becomes very difficult to cast someone as 100% bad, or 100% good.

    As for LeMond (I love LeMond by the way) you think that the doping practices in one year changed all that drastically? In 90 he wins, but in 91 he loses because in one year everyone was doped...except LeMond? I had junior teamates at the time that were it wasn't like all of a sudden PEDs, EPO, or anything else appeared in the peleton.

    As for the even playing field...I've yet to find one in life. Certainly wouldn't expect to find one in the pro peleton. Although the UCI certainly tries with minimum weight requirements, frame designs, and the like.

    By the way, I cheated racing my wife home from church on Sunday...breaking the speed limit by 5 MPH in order to win. The stakes weren't very high, but a win is a win isn't it?

    The real loser in all of this is Landis....had he only claimed tainted meat...treated with synthetic testosterone...Hamilton's defense was a vanishing twin....Contador gets off with a vanishing cow! Go figure. By the way, Contador was hand picked by Manolo Saiz as a teenager to become a great racer. He raced for Liberty Segorus and was originally implicated in Operacion Puerto. Only Armstrong appears to be more slippery.

  3. Benoit Joachim was busted for nandrolone. His federation let him off with the ridiculous excuse that too much time had passed between the A and B sample testing.

    Kevin Livingston showed up in Dr. Ferrari's files.

    Vande Velde did not just ride for Bruyneel. He also rode for Riis at CSC and Saiz at Liberty Seguros. The only doper's paradise that he managed to miss was T-Mobile. That is an incredible string of bad luck for such a "clean" rider.

  4. Mike, thanks for your input. I updated the results and that information makes it closer to 3/4ths of Lance's teammates who were dopers...

  5. Interesting article. Look also at the opposite - who doesn't associate with Armstrong: Bobby Julich. His best years (98, 05) seem to have been when the rest of the peloton was rocked (scared?) by doping scandals. When most of the rest of the pro peloton moved from Nice, he stayed. His worst years were with Telekom (as you pointed out, a team with a history).

  6. Interesting read now that we know a bit more about these individuals...