FIVE-TIMES Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain believes Lance Armstrong is not guilty of doping despite the evidence produced by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the Spaniard said today.
"Even now I believe in his innocence. He has always respected all the rules," Indurain, who won the Tour from 1991-95, was quoted as telling Radio Marca in Spain.
"I'm a bit surprised. It's a bit strange that this was only based on testimonies," he added in reference to USADA's 1,000-page report featuring testimonies from 11 former Armstrong team mates.
Armstrong (41) was formally stripped of his seven Tour titles on Monday when the International Cycling Union (UCI) ratified USADA's decision to ban him for life and nullify his results since 1998.
Meanwhile, former cyclist Steffen Kjaergaard, who competed with on the US Postal Service team in the Tour de France, has admitted to doping and was today placed on leave as Norway's cycling federation sports director.
"For 15 years I hid a lie," Kjaergaard told a news conference. "I had believed it was best for me and the sport to carry this dark secret to the grave."
Kjaergaard, who raced in the 2000 and 2001 Tours, said the US Postal Service team took care of his doping needs but kept information in a "closed circuit".
"When I was a part of the U.S Postal Service team, everything was organised by the team. I did not need to arrange for a doctor or do anything by myself," Kjaergaard said.
"I cannot say if any of my team mates were using illegal substances," Kjaergaard added. "I can assume that others at U.S Postal were using something that the witness reports said. I have no direct knowledge though."
"The reason that I am coming forth now is that I have had a big problem with my own conscience," Kjaergaard said.
The Norwegian began using banned substances - primarily erythropoietin (EPO) and cortisone - in 1998, before joining the U.S. Postal Service team, he said.
"During this period there was a new EPO test and we had to resort to intravenous micro-dosages to shorten the window where we could be caught," he said. "I also used other illegal substances on the list but not many."
Armstrong, who denies wrongdoing, lost his 1999-2005 titles after former team mates testified against him and themselves, describing what USADA called the "most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen".
Harald Tiedemann Hansen, president of the Norwegian Cycling Federation, said it was a "dark day" for the Nordic nation's cycling community and the governing body would conduct an investigation.
Kjaergaard, who was placed on indefinite leave by the federation, said he would eventually leave cycling and pursue a career outside of sport.
LANCE Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life after the International Cycling Union (UCI) said on Monday it had ratified the United States Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) sanctions.