Friday, May 27, 2011

Lance Armstrong Investigation: More Evidence Coming Out

Several news sources are reporting today that the head of the Swiss lab that was involved in testing Lance Armstrong's urine during the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, Martial Saugy, has confirmed that he did meet with both Lance and his manager, Johan Bruyneel.

This is consistent with the story that Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis have told regarding Lance having a positive test for EPO in the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. However, details of the meeting as told by Saugy, if correct, show that Hamilton's understanding was mistaken in some respects. Here is Saugy's story:
First, Saugy says that there were four samples from the Tour of Switzerland that were "suspicious" but that the test for EPO that they were using was not developed enough to confirm that the riders involved were using EPO. Here is a quote from CyclingNews on this point:
"An athlete was positive only if 80 percent of the signs typical for the use of synthetic EPO were found."A sample was considered "suspect" when "it showed between 70 and 80 percent of the typical EPO parameters. That meant that the probability of doping was high. But because such a result can also be produced naturally, it was all about excluding false positives."
Second, the lab did not know who the rider was so the head of the lab cannot confirm that Lance Armstrong was involved; the lab had a number for each sample and only the UCI knew the riders associated with each number. Another CyclingNews quote:
They were taken at four different stages, so I don't know whether they were from four different riders or all of the same athlete," said Saugy. 
Similarly, VeloNews had this to say on this topic:
Testing protocols require that samples be labeled with a numerical code and that only the UCI could link those numbers to a specific rider. The UCI, has not released any information regarding the tests or to whom the results could be attributed. It was a breakdown of that system that led to the release of results from a 2005 re-test of samples from the 1999 Tour, in which six samples submitted by Armstrong allegedly showed indications of EPO use. 
Third, Saugy is confirming that he did meet and discuss EPO testing procedures with Lance and Johan Bruyneel but characterized the meeting as a general meeting to learn about EPO testing procedures. Again from CyclingNews:
In 2002, the Paris laboratory finally determined a threshold of 85 percent for a positive test result for EPO. It was during the course of that year that Saugy met with the US Postal team management, "who wanted to know what it meant when I pointed at suspect samples. Shortly before that I had heard that there was suspicion about the 2001 samples being linked to Armstrong." 
However, Saugy said that the meeting did not take place at the Swiss lab - as stated by Hamilton in the 60 Minutes TV show - but during a trip made to collect blood samples. "And it also wasn't about discussing a particular result or to cover up anything. I explained how the EPO test worked and why there were suspect samples as well as positive ones."
Fourth, Novitzky, USADA officials and FBI agents, met with Saugy last fall to discuss this issue and the meeting he had with Lance and Bruyneel; Lance has denied ever meeting with the Saugy. This from VeloNews:
Saugy said he met with...Jeff Novitzky, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officials and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation at World Anti-Doping Agency headquarters in Montreal last September to discuss the samples and details of a meeting he’d had with Armstrong and Bruyneel to review testing methods used to detect EPO.
Armstrong’s attorney Tim Herman, however, issued a statement that neither his client nor Bruyneel have “any recollection” of having met with the lab director “for any purpose at any time.”
So here are my thoughts on this news.

First, it sounds like Hamilton and Landis knew something about this event that they learned from Lance but he didn't tell them all that was going on. A reasonable explanation is that Lance told them about the Tour of Switzerland doping results but the UCI was unable to discipline him because his results were not conclusive given the state of the EPO test at that time. However, the UCI may have warned Lance and Bruyneel which could have prompted the donations to the UCI that Lance made soon thereafter. This isn't unprecedented since Levi Leipheimer's former manager said the UCI once called him to report that Levi was bordering on a positive test.

Second, Lance either has a poor memory or he is lying when he says that he doesn't remember ever meeting with the lab director. In my mind, this is another suspicious denial related to doping, similar to his denying ever meeting with Michele Ferrari, which he now admits to doing but only as a friend. Maybe we will find out that Saugy was a family friend of Bruyneel...

Third, this shows that Lance and Bruyneel were clearly interested in finding out how doping tests worked. It definitely makes you wonder why they were so curious about the EPO test if Lance was clean...It's possible that they were just curious by nature but, given all the other dopers in cycling that Lance beat and the many allegations and other evidence, you have to really have a lot of "blind faith" to buy that story.

In other news, it was reported in yesterday's NY Times that Lance is beefing up his legal team. Here is what the Times said about it:
“If a case is brought, can there be any doubt Armstrong will fight it to the very end?” Keane said. “Certainly, hiring Keker and Peters is strong evidence of that.” Keker and Peters represented the Major League Baseball Players Association in a case that questioned the legality of the government’s seizure of baseball’s list of more than 100 players who had allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
This shows that Lance isn't taking the Landis/Hamilton allegations lightly nor will he be likely to confess anytime soon (if any of you were wondering)...If he was really concerned about government spending on this issue, maybe he would...

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