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Friday 19 September 2014

How did he get away with it?

Published 12/10/2012 | 05:00

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Later they were to laugh about it, but for a while it was deadly serious. It was back at the 1998 world track championships that Lance Armstrong enjoyed one of his closest escapes from the men vainly trying to combat doping in cycling.

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The American, two of his US Postal team-mates, Jonathan Vaughters and Christian Vande Velde, and the team doctor, Pedro Celaya, were staying in a bed and breakfast in the Dutch town of Valkenburg.

One morning, a dope tester from cycling's governing body, the UCI , arrived unannounced and set up his equipment in the communal area outside their rooms.

However, this did not upset Celaya. The doctor coolly walked to his car, collected a litre of saline, returned to Armstrong's room and administered the solution.

The other two were tested first, then Armstrong. The solution had done its work and flushed out his system; he was clean in the eyes of the authorities.

Armstrong is accused via testimony from former team-mates of doping through each of his seven Tour de France triumphs -- and getting away with it with a shocking degree of ease. There is no great secret to Armstrong's evasion of sporting justice for so long.

At times it is almost comical; once on the Tour of Luxembourg the team were on their bus heading for their hotel where they were informed police were waiting.

The bus stopped and an incriminating bag was buried in a nearby wood. "Those trees," said a team official, "will be big one day."

The doping regime exercised then is very different to the one in operation today. Its apparent laxness is startling. The simplest way for Armstrong to avoid a positive test was not to be tested. In the build-up to the Tour de France, he would avoid racing to avoid testing. Even when he raced he was able to evade it.

In 2000, during an event in Spain, Armstrong explained to George Hincapie, his team-mate, that he had taken some "oil" -- as testosterone was known.

Later Hincapie discovered drug-testing officials at the's team hotel, texted Armstrong and Armstrong dropped out of the race, another test dodged.

Dodging was not difficult. As Tyler Hamilton put it: "We had a time-honoured strategy for beating the testers -- we hid." There were "three rules" for using EPO: inject intravenously, do it in the evening and don't answer the door.

And there were other ways -- inject at a friend's house where the testers would not find you. Armstrong would disappear to the Hotel Fontanels Golf in Puigcerda in Spain when he wanted to drop out of sight, or give misleading information on his whereabouts.

During races, teams -- not just US Postal -- would post lookouts to watch for testers. There was also, USADA believes, inside knowledge of the testing system.

Vaughters said: "We typically seemed to have an hour's advance notice." Another US Postal rider, David Zabriskie, said that Johan Bruyneel, the team's director, would say: "They're coming tomorrow." There was one occasion when Armstrong did fail a test, according to USADA.

In June 2001, he won the Tour of Switzerland, but soon afterwards -- much to everyone's surprise -- he told Hamilton and Floyd Landis he had tested positive.

Hamilton recalls a conversation with Armstrong in which Armstrong made certain claims, but this matter is still unclear and remains the subject of proceedings elsewhere.

Irish Independent

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