The 'undeniable proof' of Armstrong's cheating
The jaw-dropping scale of the doping programme in which Lance Armstrong played a leading role was revealed when the United States Anti-Doping Agency published the first batch of what will run to 1,000 pages of evidence, including testimony from 11 of Armstrong's former team-mates.
The agency said it shows beyond doubt that Armstrong's US Postal team ran "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".
Usada delivered the long-awaited evidence to cycling's governing body, the UCI, and released 200 pages on its website -- the rest is being withheld for the time being as three former US Postal team officials are contesting the charges.
It details a widespread doping programme that ran across the team and lists 15 riders in all who testified against Armstrong, including former Sky domestique Michael Barry and George Hincapie, Armstrong's right-hand man for his seven Tour de France wins.
Travis Tygart, Usada's chief executive, said the evidence proves "the use, possession and distribution of performance-enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong" and "reveals conclusive and undeniable proof that brings to light for the first time this systemic, sustained and highly professionalised team-run doping conspiracy."
"The USPS Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy," continued Tygart. "It was a programme organised by individuals who thought they were above the rules and who still play a major and active role in sport today."
Barry joined Sky when the team was set up in 2009 and retired at the end of this season. He apologised for his actions. The Canadian joined US Postal in 2002 and doped until 2006.
He said: "Doping (in 2002) had become an epidemic problem in professional cycling. After being encouraged by the team, pressured to perform and pushed to my physical limits, I crossed a line I promised myself and others I would not: I doped. It was a decision I deeply regret. It caused me sleepless nights and tainted the success I achieved.
"From 2006 until the end of my career in 2012, I chose to race for teams that took a strong stance against doping. Although I never confessed to my past, I wrote and spoke about the need for change. Cycling is now a cleaner sport. I apologise to those I deceived."
Hincapie also apologised. He too said he had stopped doping in 2006, having been driven to it in the first place because of the "widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs".
One of Armstrong's most frequently used defences has been that some of the riders who have denounced him and the Postal team are -- he claims -- not believable because of their former vigorous denials of doping.
On top of that, a large proportion of the rest of those who have pointed the finger ended up either falling foul of Armstrong at Postal or simply receiving better offers from other teams and quitting the Texan's squad. Hincapie, though, has no axe to grind, no grudges -- and never left Postal.
In fact, Hincapie was Armstrong's most trusted lieutenant throughout his Tour victories from 1999 to 2005, to the point where he and Armstrong were the only riders to form part of the line-up on all of Armstrong's Tour-winning teams.
Hincapie said: "About two years ago, I was approached by US Federal investigators, and more recently by Usada, and asked to tell of my personal experience. I would have been much more comfortable talking only about myself, but understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything I knew. So that is what I did."
Armstrong has always denied doping but in August announced he would not be contesting Usada's charges. They banned him for life.
In its evidence, Usada said Armstrong, who is accused of doping in each of his successive Tour wins from 1999 to 2005, was the ringleader and intimidated others.
When it first announced its case against him, Usada protected the identities of the riders who gave evidence amid fears they may face retaliation.
Last night the 11 team-mates were named: Frankie Andreu, Barry, Tom Danielson, Tyler Hamilton, Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie. Tygart said: "The evidence demonstrates that the 'code of silence' of performance-enhancing drug use in cycling has been shattered, but there is more to do..."
Tygart applauded the "courage" of those who testified against Armstrong and added: "Lance Armstrong was given the same opportunity to come forward and be part of the solution. He rejected it. Instead he exercised his legal right not to contest the evidence and knowingly accepted the imposition of a ban from recognised competition for life and disqualification of his competitive results from 1998 forward."
Two other members of the team, Dr Michele Ferrari and Dr Garcia del Moral, also received lifetime bans. Three more -- team director Johan Bruyneel, a team doctor Dr Pedro Celaya and team trainer Jose Marti -- are contesting the charges. (© Independent News Service)