Lance Armstrong accused of EPO doping

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The French cycling newspaper L'Équipe is reporting that a drugs testing laboratory has discovered that Lance Armstrong, seven times winner of the Tour de France, used the banned substance EPO in the 1999 tour - his first victory after defeating testicular cancer. L'Equipe also points out that the results may tarnish Armstrong's image forever, and cast a shadow of doubt over his six other victories.

Lance Armstrong has responded on his website, branding L'Equipe's reporting of being "nothing short of tabloid journalism." Armstrong says: "I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance[-]enhancing drugs."

The Châtenay-Malabry French national doping screening laboratory, which developed the first EPO tests, says it has been developing new experimental detection techniques and decided to test frozen urine samples taken from Armstrong after several stages of the 1999 tour. The director of the official French anti-doping test laboratory at Châtenay-Malabry, Jacques de Ceaurriz [1] was quoted as saying he had "no doubt about the validity of our results." [2] He said that while being kept for long periods can cause EPO proteins to deteriorate, this would possibly result in negative tests for doped athletes, but not false positives.

It should be pointed out that technically this statement is false. EPO is naturally produced in the body. It is present at low levels in normal human urine, and natural levels in a human doing high-altitude training (a known "trick" of Mr. Armstrong) could be unusually high. Therefore, false positives can be obtained by setting the sensitivity threshold too low. This is especially true if the number of control samples (for calibration purposes) is limited, as is the case with the 1999 urine samples. These calibration issues are a reason EPO wasn't officially tested for earlier. Incidentally, de Ceaurriz stated that his laboratory worked on numbered anonymous samples, and was unaware when he sent his results to WADA/AMA that some of the results concerned Lance Armstrong.

In addition to these accusations, and in response to them, Armstrong has also received open backing from US Cycling [3], individual cycling officials [4], from former Tour winners Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain [5], and other public figures.

Supporters argue numerous irregularities in the doping claim: "' Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the US Anti-Doping Agency, they've all defined a process for collecting samples, managing samples, testing the samples, identifying the people who are involved,' said Johnson. ' They have certain rights in the process. None of that has been followed in this case.' Officials from cycling's ruling body (UCI), Wada, the French sports ministry and the Tour de France all agree normal anti-doping proceedings have not been followed. ' This isn't a 'doping positive. This is just a publication in a French tabloid newspaper. That's our perspective,'" added Johnson.'"--BBC

These allegations are still under examination by a number of news and anti-doping organizations.

  • UCI Statement

On September 9, after a period of investigation, the UCI finally released a strongly-worded official statement condemning the WADA, the French laboratory in question, and the paper L'Equipe, for having failed to provide any official communication, and having failed to provide any data, evidence, or background on the allegations. The UCI stated that it was still "awaiting plausible answers" to its requests to WADA and the laboratory, but also indicated "We deplore the fact that the long-established and entrenched confidentiality principle could be violated in such a flagrant way without any respect for fair play and the rider's privacy." [6]

The accusers themselves, in particular the World Anti-Doping Agency, might face an investigation into their own practices, in connection to their allegations against Armstrong. The UCI stated "We have substantial concerns about the impact of this matter on the integrity of the overall drug testing regime of the Olympic movement, and in particular the questions it raises over the trustworthiness of some of the sports and political authorities active in the anti-doping fight."

On October 5, the UCI announced the appointment of an independent expert to investigate the leaking of doping allegations against Armstrong: "French sports newspaper L'Equipe claims that samples given by the American icon on the 1999 Tour later tested positive. Armstrong has denied the allegations. The International Cycling Union (UCI) has now appointed Dutch lawyer and doping specialist Emile Vrijman to probe how the details were released. The UCI said it 'expects all relevant parties to fully co-operate'. Vrijman is a former director of the National Anti-Doping Agency in the Netherlands (NeCeDo)." [7]

Sources



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