- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

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 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.

The report said WADA and the LNDD may have “behaved in ways that are completely inconsistent with the rules and regulations of international anti-doping control testing” and may have been against the law. It accused WADA of putting pressure on LNDD to summarize the results of the tests and said both agencies violated rules of confidentiality by openly discussing the findings.

Mr. Pound said he hadn’t received the report yet but, based on what he had read in news accounts, was critical of Mr. Vrijman’s findings.

“There was no interest in determining whether the samples Armstrong provided were positive or not,” he said. “We were afraid of that from the very beginning.”

Mr. Pound reiterated his assertion that the cycling union had leaked the forms to a reporter from L’Equipe and was responsible for the doping samples being linked to Armstrong.

“Whether the samples were positive or not, I don’t know how a Dutch lawyer with no expertise came to a conclusion that one of the leading laboratories in the world messed up on the analysis. To say Armstrong is totally exonerated seems strange,” Mr. Pound said.

“The report confirms my innocence, but also finds that Mr. Pound, along with the French lab and the French ministry, have ignored the rules and broken the law,” Armstrong said. “They have also refused to cooperate with the investigation in an effort to conceal the full scope of their wrongdoing.”

WADA was established in November 1999 as a result of the International Olympic Committee’s World Conference on Doping in Sport earlier that year. The foundation operates with funding from the IOC, governments and sporting bodies.

Mr. Pound, a former IOC vice president, has pushed for the group to have more influence outside the Olympic realm. The head of WADA since its inception, Mr. Pound has been critical of cycling, American track-and-field athletes and the National Hockey League.


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