• Cycling

Lance lying about cover-up - Verbruggen

ESPN staff
November 19, 2013
Lance Armstrong says he is prepared to throw former cycling chief Hein Verbruggen "under the bus" © AP

Lance Armstrong has been accused of lying by the former head of world cycling, after the disgraced rider claimed he helped him orchestrate a cover-up to hide a positive drugs test at the Tour de France.

Hein Verbruggen, president of the International Cycling Union when Armstrong stormed to all seven of his Tour titles, has hit back at Armstrong in the Daily Telegraph over his explosive claims that the sport's governing body helped him get a backdated prescription for a cortisone positive on his way to his first Yellow Jersey in 1999.

Armstrong has long been accused of a cover-up after putting the positive down to the use of a steroid cream for saddle sore, but had always denied it until his interview with the Daily Mail on Monday.

But Verbruggen says he has nothing to hide, and would have no problem cooperating with the independent commission into cycling's drug-stained past that has been set up by new UCI president Brian Cookson in conjuction with the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Cookson is keen to call both Armstrong and Verbruggen to the commission, which is set to get underway in January.

In an email to the Daily Telegraph, Verbruggen said: "An IC [independent commission] has never been a problem for me."

Armstrong has claimed Verbruggen told him to "come up with something" to explain the 1999 positive, but the former UCI chief insists "there was nothing to cover up".

Verbruggen says he could not have even helped Armstrong if he had wanted to because all anti-doping measures in France at the time were "handled by the French Ministry and the Ministry had decided that LA's explanation of the presence of cortisone [ointment] was acceptable for them. It was NOT a UCI-decision; there was nothing to cover-up".

Going on the attack, Verbruggen also told Dutch television channel NOS via text message: "Since when does one believe Lance Armstrong?"

Armstrong received a lifetime ban from the United States Anti-Doping Agency last year for orchestrating "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen," and was stripped of his seven Yellow Jerseys.

Armstrong said Verbruggen told him news of his positive would be a "knockout punch for our sport" with cycling "on life support" after the Festina doping affair a year before at the Tour that exposed how cycling was riddled with systematic doping, prompting the 1999 race to be named the 'Tour of Renewal'.

Having retired as UCI president in 2005, Verbruggen is still a member of the International Olympic Committee. He helped co-ordinate the 2000 Beijing Olympics having been with the IOC since 1996.

And in a worrying twist for Cookson and the UCI, the IOC came out in staunch defence of Verbruggen over Armstrong's claims.

"It is hard to give any credibility to the claims of a cyclist who appears to have misled the world for decades," the IOC said in a statement."We await proper considered outcomes from this investigation rather than rumour and accusation."

The statement had echoes of the emotive language used by Cookson's predecessor Pat McQuaid who described dopers Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton as "scumbags" when their testimonies proved crucial in bringing their former teammate Armstrong down.

New WADA president Craig Reedie has called on Armstrong to follow up his claims by coming clean over his full involvement with doping, while the UCI have indicated that Verbruggen could now be called before their independent commission.

Reedie said: "I read the [Armstrong] interview with interest. It rather illustrated that the sport had a serious problem all those years ago and it has brought it to a serious head. In defence of the current UCI regime, they have been very active in trying to tackle the problems of the past.

"Lance Armstrong is certainly seen in the public eye as the biggest sinner of that generation but if he chose to take part in a properly organised independent commission it would give them the best chance of achieving a proper result.

"The question I am asking, though, is one of amnesty. I imagine Armstrong would want that protection before he could talk."

A UCI statement read: "The UCI's independent commission of inquiry is in the process of being set up and we are in advanced discussions with stakeholders on its terms of reference to allow full investigation of any allegations relating to doping and wrongdoing at the UCI.

"The commission will invite individuals to provide evidence and we would urge all those involved to come forward and help the commission in its work in the best interests of the sport of cycling."

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