Lance Armstrong emerged triumphant in the most famous cycling race in the world a record seven times mainly because he was the central figure in the biggest sports doping conspiracy ever, according to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Releasing yesterday what it described as "overwhelming" proof of how the then manager of the US Postal Service team and a controversial doctor aided Armstrong in his efforts to cheat drug-testing officials, USADA said that the disgraced cyclist won his first Tour de France in 1999 by using the prohibited blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) and testosterone.
Retroactive tests revealed the presence of EPO in Armstrong's urine samples which were taken during that year's race, the agency noted. USADA further said that "Lance Armstrong did not just use performance enhancing drugs, he supplied them to his team-mates."
The agency's report paints a disturbing picture of the goings-on in the US Postal Service team at the turn of the 21st century. USADA pointed out that in Jun 2000, Armstrong along with two other cyclists went to Spain where the blood of the trio was secretly extracted at a hotel room in Valencia.
Weeks later, the extracted blood was injected into their bodies and this allowed the three teammates to compete successfully in the Tour de France. Armstrong was able to pedal to victory that year thanks to exogenous EPO, USADA said.
As many as 11 erstwhile members of the US Postal Service team have confessed to regularly using banned substances. George Hincapie who used to ride on the US Postal Service team admitted to being "generally aware that Lance was using testosterone" throughout the time they were teammates.
"For instance at a race in Spain in 2000, Lance indicated to me that he had taken testosterone. Lance told me that he was feeling good and recovered, that he had just taken some "oil". When I heard that drug testing officials were at the hotel, I texted Lance to warn him to avoid the place. As a result, Lance dropped out of the race," Hincapie recounted.
The USADA report also contains the testimonies of Floyd Landis, Tom Danielson, Frankie Andreu, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Tyler Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer, Michael Barry, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie.
Citing their affidavits, the agency's chief executive Travis T Tygart said: "The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."
All those who knew about the program were compelled by Armstrong to stick to a "code of silence" about the illegal activities, USADA stressed.
"We believe that allowing individuals to come forward and acknowledge the truth about their past doping may be the only way to truly dismantle the remaining system that allowed this 'EPO and Blood Doping Era' to flourish," Tygart added.