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Team mate Hincapie tells CBS Lance used drugs

A report by "60 Minutes" says Hincapie, a longtime member of Lance Armstrong's inner circle, has told federal authorities he saw the seven-time Tour de France winner use performance-enhancing drugs. A segment of the report aired Friday night, May 20,2011 on the "CBS Evening News."

Lance Armstrong won a record seven Tour de France cycling races from 1999 to 2005, achieving the unprecedented results after a remarkable recovery from cancer.

Through the years there have been accusations that Armstrong did not compete fairly in a sport that has been plagued by doping cheats. But the American has always emphasized the fact that he has never tested positive for a banned substance.

But after former teammate Tyler Hamilton appeared Sunday on the CBS television show 60 Minutes many doubts are surfacing. Hamilton, who admitted his own use of illegal substances, told the network he saw Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs on several occasions.

"He took. We all took," said Hamilton. "[There is] really no difference between Lance Armstrong and, I would say, the majority of the peloton [large group of racing cyclists], you know. There was EPO (blood booster). There was testosterone. And I did see a transfusion, a blood transfusion.”

Hamilton claims team management encouraged riders to use performance-enhancing drugs.

"I remember seeing some of the stronger guys on the team getting handed these white lunch bags. So finally I, you know, started putting two and two together [realized what was going on], and you know basically they were doping products in those white lunch bags."

Hamilton added that Armstrong even personally gave him an oral performance-enhancing substance.

"He just squirted it into my mouth. He squirted it into a teammate’s mouth and then squirted it into his own mouth," said Hamilton. "Just a tiny amount, enough that it is not going to be detected the next day when you get drug tested."

Hamilton even told 60 Minutes that Armstrong told him he had tested positive for EPO during the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, but the International Cycling Union kept the results quiet so Armstrong could escape punishment.

Hamilton’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from Armstrong’s lawyer, Mark Fabiani, who said “the possibility of a cover-up is zero.” 

The former president of cycling’s world governing body, Hein Verbruggen, said none of Armstrong’s doping control tests have ever been hidden, and he knew nothing about any “suspicious tests.”

Fabiani added that CBS “has demonstrated a serious lack of journalistic fairness and has elevated sensationalism over responsibility,” choosing “to rely on dubious sources while completely ignoring Lance’s nearly 500 clean tests.”

Armstrong, who retired from competitive cycling in February, declined to be interviewed by 60 Minutes. But on facts4lance.com, his publicist’s website, he accuses the network of “selective reliance on witnesses upon whom no reputable journalist would rely.”

Hamilton, knowing the International Olympic Committee could strip him of his 2004 Olympics cycling time trial gold medal for his admittance of doping, last week voluntarily gave back the medal.

 The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, has confirmed it has the medal. Tygart said the agency is continuing its ongoing investigation into the sport of cycling, but will not comment on the newest allegations against Armstrong. He added that “now is time for truth and for all those involved in cycling to embrace the effort to truly change the culture of the sport for the good.”Forcing Marion Jones to confess to doping and cry for forgiveness on the courthouse steps represented a stretching exercise. Bagging Barry Bonds on an obstruction-of-justice charge amounted to a scrimmage. Taking Roger Clemens to trial this summer on charges of lying to Congress about drug use will constitute the national anthem and a ceremonial first pitch.

 The ultimate game won't start until the man who won seven yellow jerseys and sold untold yellow bracelets goes in front of a judge and jury.

Lance Armstrong would be the grand prize for Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who put teeth into America's anti-doping laws. If the Los Angeles grand jury investigating Armstrong's old cycling team returns an indictment, every young athlete contemplating that first illicit injection would have to think: "Lance was the ultimate untouchable. If I do this, I'll probably get busted someday."

The temptations of doping will not disappear entirely, but Novitzky's investigations already have produced one powerful ripple effect: The code of silence, built on equal parts of athletic smugness and clannish loyalty, began to crack a while ago. It shattered during Tyler Hamilton's "60 Minutes" appearance Sunday.

Armstrong's former teammate accused him of doping, while admitting his own guilt after years of denial, and said the cycling federation helped cover up a positive test for Armstrong.

Armstrong's camp pointed out that Hamilton lied about his own flunked drug tests for almost seven years and accused him of concocting a fiction about his famous teammate in order to sell a book. But Hamilton didn't open his mouth until Novitzky arrived, demanding answers.

 Hamilton saw what the feds had done to Bonds when he became an uncooperative grand-jury witness. Hamilton saw the government lock up Greg Anderson when he refused to testify against Bonds. Under oath, the 2004 Olympic time-trial champion yielded. Not long afterward, he surrendered his gold medal.

The thought of being disloyal to Armstrong has terrified former teammates. He was their leader, the heroic cancer survivor who ruled the Alps, the untouchable. Now, Novitzky scares them more.

Unlike the home run king, who didn't criticize the fellow ballplayers called to testify in his trial, Armstrong and his attorneys surely will attack former colleagues who give evidence. He has been fighting for his reputation for years, going against a disapproving Greg LeMond, a Tour de France winner, in a way that Bonds didn't have to against his skeptical predecessor, Hank Aaron.

Hamilton and Floyd Landis might be vulnerable to the Armstrong assaults, because they fought their own doping violations too obstinately to regain full credibility when they shifted into reverse. But another ex-mate on the U.S. Postal Service team, George Hincapie, has not failed a drug test or spoken a negative word in public about Armstrong. CBS reported over the weekend that Hincapie had provided evidence against Armstrong in the case, and Hincapie did not deny the information. He simply said he had not talked to "60 Minutes."

That would appear to bring the known number of ex-teammates in the prosecutor's fold to four, including Frankie Andreu, who voluntarily told the New York Times years ago that he had experimented with the blood-boosting drug EPO. There could be more. The grand jury meets in secret, and all details - including witnesses' names - are officially withheld.

Sources close to the case have said that the prosecution, feeling very confident, does not intend to call every potential trial witness before the grand jury.

An indictment against Armstrong seemed unthinkable in 2003, when Novitzky and his federal posse first raided the BALCO headquarters, ensnaring Jones, Bonds and eventually Clemens. It still seemed unlikely a year ago, even after Landis confessed to his own doping and implicated his former U.S. Postal Service teammate.

 Armstrong was five years removed from his last Tour win, and even if the statute of limitations didn't present a problem, the government had not prosecuted an athlete simply for using. A fraud case tied to Armstrong's stake in the team seemed too complex to prove.

But the feds haven't backed down, just as they didn't yield when Bonds' case looked like a loser to outsiders. They're a little crazy to take on such an icon, a man who rode alongside President Bush and who raises millions for cancer research. But win or lose, simply by picking the fight and not letting go, they sent a frightening message to anyone plotting to achieve stardom chemically.
Gwen Knapp  San Francisco Chronicle

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