Former UCI President Hein Verbruggen is hitting back at Lance Armstrong, calling the disgraced cyclist’s allegations that he helped him cover up the results of a positive drug test – are "b—s—”, while revealing the “misery” he has suffered since the allegations emerged.
Responding at length for the first time to the Armstrong’s accusation that he helped suppress a positive test back in 1999, Verbruggen has asserted the following:
• Accused Armstrong of making the accusations for financial gain • Produced documentary evidence aimed at showing there was no positive test • Said there was no corruption during his reign in charge of the International Cycling Union • Revealed he had written to the American seeking an apology.
Speaking to the British media, Verbruggen argues that Armstrong’s accusations were designed to reduce the life ban that the US Anti-Doping Agency imposed upon him, after being charged with orchestrating the “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programs the sport has ever seen”.
Armstrong claimed last month that Verbruggen had helped suppress news of his positive test in 1999 by agreeing to blame the results on a backdated prescription for a steroid cream to treat saddle sores.
Armstrong stated that he discussed the adverse finding for cortisone with Verbruggen, who he claimed said it would be a “knockout punch” for cycling after the previous year’s scandal involving the Festina team – and they had to “come up with something”.
In an attempt to set the record straight, Verbruggen produced an official report which he said was evidence that there was no positive test to cover up, because the findings were the result of a legal cream.
Insisting UCI rules required a prescription, but not a backdated one, Verbruggen said:
“It’s a bullshit story and nothing else. Never, ever would I have had a conversation saying, ‘We have to take care of this’.
“It might very well be that he or somebody else from the team has given me a call and my first reaction was, ‘S—. We had this Festina problem and now this’. But that’s a very long way from concluding we have to do something about it.
“How can I take care of something that is known already by the laboratory, that is known already by the French Ministry , that is known by the UCI, the anti-doping people at the UCI? It’s ridiculous.”
Verbruggen, who was UCI president at the time, accused Armstrong of destroying his reputation.
“I see it as if I’m part of a kind of industry now: it’s called the Lance Armstrong industry. People are making films now. It’s all part of the industry. You have a lot of people in it with a vested interest, and this interest is clearly not to know the truth,” he said.
“Lance Armstrong has his own agenda and that is certainly his own personal interest, whether it is that he wants his sanctions to be reduced or whether he wants money. Usually, with Lance, there is always an interest also in money. My interest is the truth.”
The allegations first emerged in 2010 when former teammate Floyd Landis claimed, Armstrong boasted about getting a positive test covered up. Verbruggen revealed he had written to Armstrong in June seeking an apology for the impression he had given his team.
Not only was there no reply, but Armstrong appeared to corroborate Landis’s story last month, something which proved the final straw for Verbruggen, who insisted there was no evidence whatsoever he and others had helped suppress the biggest scandal in cycling’s history.
He added of Armstrong:
“Does he make money if he comes with a juicy story? I think it has to do with the fact he has told his team-mates he has once been positive. That’s what I believe.”
Additionally, Landis suggested that Armstrong appeared to have managed the cover up a different test, at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. Verbruggen’s documents again indicated this test was “suspicious” but not positive. The Dutchman insisted he would “never forget, or forgive” Armstrong for suggesting he or others at the UCI were corrupt, adding: “He caused me a lot of misery.”
In the past, Verbruggen has never hesitated to initiate legal proceedings against his enemies. However, nothing in this regard has been done with Armstrong.
“Lance Armstrong is another thing because this is in America. This is going to cost me a couple of million dollars.”
Verbruggen also hit back at allegations that two six-figure donations by Armstrong to the UCI were bribes or that he had inappropriate financial dealings with a backer of Armstrong’s US Postal Service team.
Insisting the Armstrong donations were never hidden by the UCI, Verbruggen reiterated that accepting them was a mistake in hindsight. Explaining his investment with Thomas Weisel’s firm, the Dutchman produced bank records and other documents showing he lost money on the venture and insisted he had no knowledge of Weisel’s involvement with Armstrong’s team when the investment was made on his behalf.
As for the claim in a report compiled by private investigators that Armstrong’s lawyers were able to edit portions of an independent report into allegations of a positive test during a scientific study in 2005, more “b—s—”, according to Verbruggen.
He added: “You will never, ever find any cover-up in the UCI while I was president, and I’m sure afterwards neither. There is no bribery, whatever they say.”
Many cannot fathom how Armstrong managed to evade detection despite the growing suspicion he was "doping". Verbruggen insisted he had no more doubts about the American than other riders.
“When you’re so long in cycling, you suspect everything,” he said, acknowledging he was “wrong” at the time to lash out at those who claimed doping was rife in the sport.
“You know it’s going on but you do not know the details. You don’t, you don’t.” He added: “The suspicion against a rider like that — in this case Lance Armstrong — builds up gradually.”
Yet, Verbruggen’s public pronouncements at the time gave the impression Armstrong and others were 100 per cent clean.
“I’m absolutely sure the next day it would be like this in the paper: ‘Doubts cast by Verbruggen on Armstrong’. That’s something I was not particularly keen on. I hadn’t said that about anybody, ever. Now they blame me — ‘You should’ve said that’. But I don’t think anybody would. You don’t. You can’t.”
Verbruggen admitted the only additional action he might have taken was to enlist the help of the French police to keep closer tabs on Armstrong.
He denied being too close himself to the Armstrong, insisting they were never friends and that he had more contact with other riders, while also rubbishing suggestions Armstrong had enough clout to get his rivals called in for questioning, as alleged by former team-mate Tyler Hamilton.
Despite their mutual enmity, Verbruggen agreed with Armstrong that he had been unfairly demonised, even by the man who replaced him as UCI president eight years ago.
“Pat McQuaid said about Lance Armstrong, ‘Lance has no place in cycling’. I would never have said that. We know now that at that time, yes, there were a lot of people on EPO and he was one of them. Nobody should single him out on that basis. He doped, it was forbidden, it’s cheating. But he was not the only one, that’s for sure.”
Yet, he had “nothing against” the American’s life ban, adding: “The rules are the rules and they have to apply to anybody.”
A reduction in that sentence is precisely what Armstrong is seeking in return for possible cooperation with an independent commission into cycling’s dark recent past.
Verbruggen predicted Armstrong would end up snubbing that commission, something he also threatened to do if he was not given assurances by current UCI president Brian Cookson that it would be fully independent.
“I have clear doubts about the potential unofficial goal of this commission,” he said, revealing he had written to Cookson to express fears he would be set up as a scapegoat, particularly as there were already questions about the viability of his role as honorary president of the UCI. “You all expect there will be a lot of corruption coming out. It will not be, and he knows that by now.”
He added: “There is an IC which is an independent investigation. They go into the books, they see if there is any payments. They can go in my books, my banks, everything.”
Whether he participates or not, Verbruggen insisted he was finished with sport and would relinquish his one remaining role as chairman of the Olympic Broadcasting Service in March.
“I’m fed up. I’m totally fed up. My reputation has suffered,” he said. “But I don’t care very much about it. Lance, he’s an icon. I’m not. Who knows me? Only people in sport.
“And the people in sport who know me really well tell me, ‘Hein, we don’t believe this crap’. It’s embarrassing, it’s changed my life in a certain way. But I know what I’ve done for sport and these are facts. I took a federation from virtually bankruptcy, with four people working in three offices in three countries, hopelessly divided, to a flourishing federation with an excellent reputation as a structure.
“So, I haven’t lost one friend, nobody who is important in my life. I’ve lost nothing.”
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