Thursday, June 01, 2006

L'Équipe (Française) spiked their story
Investigator clears Armstrong of doping

AMSTERDAM -- Lance Armstrong called it a "witch hunt" from the beginning, saying that a French newspaper used dubious evidence to accuse him of doping and that lab officials mishandled his samples and broke the rules.

According to a Dutch investigator's findings released yesterday, it appears Armstrong -- who repeatedly has denied using banned substances -- was right.

The report, commissioned late last year by the International Cycling Union, cleared the record seven-time Tour de France champion of charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his first Tour win in 1999.

It said tests on urine samples were conducted improperly and fell so short of scientific standards that it was "completely irresponsible" to suggest they "constitute evidence of anything."

The investigation also concluded that the French laboratory that handled the samples and the World Anti-Doping Agency "violated applicable rules on athlete confidentiality by commenting publicly on the alleged positive findings."

The 132-page report recommended convening a tribunal to discuss possible legal and ethical violations by WADA, which is led by Dick Pound, and to consider "appropriate sanctions to remedy the violations."

The French sports daily L'Equipe [The Team] reported in August that six of Armstrong's urine samples from 1999 came back positive for the endurance-boosting hormone EPO (erythropoietin) when retested in 2004.

"Today's comprehensive report makes it clear that there is no truth to that accusation," Armstrong said. "I have now retired, but for the sake of all athletes still competing who deserve a level playing field and a fair system of drug testing, the time has come to take action against these kinds of attacks before they destroy the credibility of WADA and, in turn, the international anti-doping system."

The International Cycling Union appointed Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman in October to investigate the handling of urine tests from the 1999 Tour by the French national anti-doping laboratory, known by its French acronym LNDD.

Mr. Vrijman said his report "exonerates Lance Armstrong completely with respect to alleged use of doping in the 1999 Tour de France."

It said that no proper records were kept of the samples and that there had been no "chain of custody" guaranteeing their integrity and no way of knowing whether the samples had been "spiked" with banned substances...

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