Liggett admits he now finds it very difficult not to believe Armstrong took drugs
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Liggett admits he now finds it very difficult not to believe Armstrong took drugs

by Shane Stokes at 8:47 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
Four Corners programme raises questions about Armstrong and UCI

Phil Liggett Lance ArmstrongHe’s been one of Lance Armstrong’s staunchest supporters over the years, commentating on his Tour de France successes and also defending him in multiple interviews, but veteran broadcaster Phil Liggett has now conceded that he has serious doubts about the Texan.

Liggett came under fire recently for questioning USADA’s investigation of the rider, describing it as a ‘nefarious local drugs agency’ and also alleging that a person who worked for Lance Armstrong was offered a huge bribe to implicate the Texan in drug use. The insinuation was that those who were trying to prove the rider had used doping products were corrupt and were willing to pay money to nail Armstrong.

Now, following the release of hundreds of pages of evidence against the rider and the US Postal Service team, Liggett appears to changed his view completely and to accept the legitimacy of the investigation.

“When money is involved, big money, then of course the cheats come as well,” a deflated-looking Liggett said on the Four Corners programme on ABC television in Australia.

Asked about Armstrong, he no longer defended him against allegations of cheating. “He came back again and again and again, winning Tour after Tour. He did it seven times, and of course it is a record. Nobody had ever done it. For many people it was unacceptable, it was impossible to do that without taking drugs.

“Look, I admit I have been very proud to commentate on Armstrong over these years because I have seen a man…I have seen how he has battled the elements, and I have seen how he has come forward. I am very sad. What do I think? Everybody else did it…so I find it very difficult not to think Lance did it.”

Liggett has commentated on the sport for decades and has been part of a double act with fellow Briton Paul Sherwen, a former pro who was also previously the press relations officer for Armstrong’s Motorola team in the 1990s.

Sherwen runs a gold mine in Uganda, which Armstrong has invested money in. Ten years ago Liggett was also reported as having invested in the mine.

Sherwen is yet to comment on the USADA evidence, but Liggett appears now to accept that rules were broken en route to those Tour successes. He believes Armstrong’s credibility has taken a big hit.

“I know the power of this man when he walks into the room, and I know the hope he gives cancer survivors,” he said. “I don't know - if he is proved to have taken drugs - how he can face any of these people. He can call up Barack Obama, he has his cellphone number on his cellphone. But how can you call up all these people knowing that you have taken all drugs all your life to cheat to seven Tours? It is a problem that I wouldn’t want.”

Former team-mates and past contacts speak about doping:

The programme also spoke to many others involved in cycling, including Armstrong’s former team-mates Phil Anderson, Stephen Swart and Tyler Hamilton. The latter two backed up suggestions that the Texan doped, while Anderson said that he had strong doubts early on that Armstrong could win the Tour de France during his career.

“For me, no,” he said, when asked if he thought he could take the race. “To be a good Tour rider, you have to be a good time triallist and you have to be a good mountain climber. And he wasn’t particularly strong in those two areas. For me, he didn’t have what it took in those early years.”

The Four Corners investigation broadcast testimony taken during the SCA Promotions case, which ran between 2004 and 2006, and dealt with that insurance company’s refusal to pay out a $5 million bonus due to Armstrong when he won his sixth Tour. It argued that there was strong reason to believe that he had doped; ultimately, that became a moot point because the original contract didn’t include stipulations about having to win the race clean.

Two of those who gave their sworn testimony were Frankie and Betsy Andreu; the former was a past team-mate on the US Postal Service team, the latter was his wife. Both said under oath that Armstrong had admitted in a hospital room in 1996 that he had used a mixture of banned products in his early career, including EPO and growth hormone.

Another who gave sworn evidence was Stephanie McIlvain, who worked for his sponsor Oakley. The Andreus said that she was also present in the hospital room when doctors were talking to Armstrong as part of his treatment for testicular cancer. McIlvain contradicted their account under oath, saying that she never heard Armstrong talk about using banned products.

However a recording made a year earlier by triple Tour de France winner Greg LeMond was played on the programme, and there McIlvain confirmed she was present. Asked by LeMond if he would testify if a court case happened, she said she would.

“If I was subpoenaed, I would…because I am not going to lie. I was in that room, I heard it,” she told LeMond.

SCA Promotions lawyer Jeff Tillotson revealed that the clear clash in McIlvain’s evidence meant that she was accepted by both sides as being a compromised witness. “Lance Armstrong’s lawyers immediately backed off this issue and agreed in a written stipulation we presented to the panel that Stephanie McIlvain had been untruthful under oath and had told two different stories about what happened in the Indiana hospital room,” he said.

Tillotson also confirmed that he was in a somewhat unique position, something which could become important if a perjury case is ever taken against Armstrong. “Whether it is a blessing or a curse, I remain the only lawyer to have taken sworn evidence from Lance Armstrong and to have him deny under oath, with the penalty of perjury, that he has used performance enhancing drugs,” he said.

SCA Promotions confirmed last week to VeloNation that it was monitoring the Armstrong situation and that it would consider trying to recoup the money paid out if the UCI backs USADA’s sanctions. The Sunday Times is also considering legal action over its own payout in the past.

UCI’s committment to anti-doping queried:

While the investigation has focussed largely on Armstrong and the US Postal Service team, it has also turned the spotlight on the UCI due to allegations that a corticosteroid positive from the 1999 Tour de France was allowed pass via a backdated prescription, and that a positive test for EPO two years later in the Tour de Suisse was also allowed pass by officials.

Former team soigneur Emma O’Reilly told the programme that the corticosteroid issue was due to Armstrong’s use of the product in a previous race and that a decision was made by he and team management to claim he had been using a cream for a saddle sore prior to the race.

She said this excuse was completely false. “It wasn’t about saddle sores. The whole thing was just a backdated prescription to help explain his elevated cortisone level in the prologue,” she said. “It wasn’t [on his therapeutic use exemption list] because he wasn’t taking the cream. It was just purely backdated to cover up that cortisone elevation. The backdated prescription was rigged to suit the test.”

Hamilton speaks about the Tour de Suisse incident and said that as far as he was concerned, that too was allowed to amount to nothing. The programme makes the same point about an article by L’Equipe in 2005, which showed that several of Armstrong’s samples from the 1999 Tour which were retested showed clear signs of EPO doping.

The journalist involved, Damien Ressiot, said that for all of Armstrong’s protests, nothing was done against the newspaper. “We know that Mr Armstrong always have about 20 lawyers around him but they didn’t try to sue l’Equipe,” he said.

Armstrong’s 2005 deposition included questions about the matter and he was emphatic there that he had done nothing wrong. He alleged then that the laboratory may have spiked the samples. “I can only believe that they are not mine or were manipulated, because when I pissed in the bottle, there was not EPO in that urine,” he insisted.

As much as the programme raises serious questions about Armstrong, it also paints the UCI in a bleak light. Former pro Jorg Jaksche was interviewed about his drug use and admission, and his claims that he tried to provide the UCI with clear information about doping in the sport, but nothing as acted upon.

However perhaps more damaging was an account of former WADA president Richard Pound about an exchange he said he had in the past with the UCI’s previous president, Hein Verbruggen.

“I said ‘Hein, you guys have a huge problem in your sport.’ He said ‘what do you mean?’ I said ‘the doping.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘that is really the fault of the spectators.’

“I said, ‘I beg your pardon...it is the spectators’ fault?’ He said, ‘yes…if they were happy with the Tour de France at 25 k [km/h], it would be fine. But if they want it at 41, 42, the riders have to prepare.’”

The UCI recently denied that it had any culpability in the doping epidemic which afflicted cycling in the past. Its current president Pat McQuaid told the press that the governing body did everything it could at the time and was blameless.

He and Verbruggen are currently suing the journalist Paul Kimmage, who has been a strong critic. He has said that he will aim to bring witnesses to the Swiss court in December and fight to show that the UCI didn’t live up to its responsibilities during Armstrong’s now-discredited era.

With individuals such as Liggett and Anderson now reversing their previous statements of support for the Texan, it’s clear that the mood is changing in cycling. The Four Corners programme showed that the aura of invincibility around Armstrong is crumbling, and also that there is a clear dissatisfaction about how the doping issue was able to fester.

Jaksche said that the governing body must shoulder some of the blame. “It is like having a dead body in your basement. It stinks a little bit after a while and it is going to come up more and more and more. One day the police are going to find it.

“The information was there, the UCI did very little or nothing about it. So it is their problem if the basement stinks.”


Watch the Four Corners programme here:

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