Commentary

What Tyler Hamilton's interview tells us

Updated: May 23, 2011, 4:56 PM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Tyler Hamilton's interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," which he said matches his testimony to a federal grand jury and talks with investigators, is foundational to the prosecution's potential case against Lance Armstrong and others associated with the U.S. Postal Service team.

Hamilton said he saw Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs, including the banned blood-booster erythropoietin, in 1999 and two subsequent seasons to help prepare for the Tour de France. Lance Armstrong's camp has refuted Hamilton's claims.

But the show unearthed other information that had never been in the public domain and elaborated on other statements or anecdotes that have already been reported.

Here are some key points:

Back to the future

A revelation that will resonate on both sides of the Atlantic is the report that Italian investigators have evidence that Armstrong's relationship with tainted trainer Michele Ferrari may have continued through Armstrong's two-season comeback (2009-10). Armstrong said he ended their professional arrangement in late 2004 when Ferrari was found guilty of sporting fraud and misuse of his medical license for distributing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.

The "60 Minutes" report, which did not cite a specific source, said Italian authorities were examining evidence of large financial payments made by Armstrong and his "representatives" to Ferrari as recently as 2010. Obviously, it would take other supporting evidence to prove Ferrari actually advised Armstrong on doping strategies. Police raids in the original investigation of Ferrari turned up detailed training programs for other riders -- including Armstrong's former teammate Kevin Livingston -- with coded symbols that one Italian rider, Filippo Simeoni, testified were related to a doping regimen. (Livingston did not appear at the trial and did not test positive for performance-enhancing drugs during his career.)

Hamilton told "60 Minutes" he worked with Ferrari and admitted the doctor instructed him on how to take EPO. Hamilton also said he heard discussions about doping between Ferrari and Armstrong.

"I can't say I saw Michele Ferrari ever give Lance Armstrong performance-enhancing drugs," Hamilton said. "But, do I know for a fact that they talked about performance-enhancing drugs and how to take it and when and -- when, how and why? Yes."

Ferrari conducted physiological testing on several other U.S. Postal Service riders, as chronicled in the 2005 book "Lance Armstrong's War" by Daniel Coyle. Ferrari's conviction was later reversed on appeal, and one factor in the Italian authorities' cooperation with U.S. officials may be their desire to get another bite of the legal apple.

[+] EnlargeLance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton
Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty ImagesLance Armstrong's former teammate Tyler Hamillton, right, told "60 Minutes" he saw Armstrong inject EPO.

The vanishing test

Evidence that Armstrong donated large sums of money to the UCI, cycling's governing body, has been public for many years but came under increased scrutiny last year when deposed 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis alleged that Armstrong told him he was able to quash a positive test for EPO during the 2001 Tour of Switzerland by negotiating a payment with the UCI.

Hamilton corroborated that story on "60 Minutes," saying a "relaxed" Armstrong told him the UCI had made the issue "go away." It is not clear whether the initial test, dubbed "suspicious" in Sunday's report, was ever backed up by a test on another sample. However, as World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman pointed out on camera, a clear ethical breach occurred when the director of the Swiss lab that conducted the test met with Armstrong and his team manager Johan Bruyneel at the behest of the UCI. That would constitute preferential treatment. Around the time of this alleged meeting, Armstrong donated $25,000 to the UCI. (He contributed $100,000 more to the governing body three years later.)

The show reported that the lab director said in an affidavit the meeting included a discussion of testing procedures that would have been useful for someone seeking to beat the test. If all the moving pieces in this story are connected, it will give credence to the theory that Armstrong and his organization were protected by the UCI in exchange for a quid pro quo. Bribing foreign officials is against U.S. law.

Staying ahead of the sheriff

Blood doping, the practice of extracting and retransfusing blood to improve oxygen processing, largely went out of vogue in the 1990s when an easier method came along -- namely, injecting EPO. But in the months leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, various media reports indicated a reliable test for EPO was on the verge of being introduced by anti-doping authorities. (The test was used selectively in Sydney but was far less sensitive and sophisticated than today's version.)

That sea change is thought to have prompted athletes to return to the then-undetectable, if messier, method of transfusions. Hamilton's depiction of transfusions before and during the 2000 Tour de France could be a prime example of that trend. In his account to "60 Minutes," he and Armstrong and another unnamed teammate flew to Valencia, Spain, on a private jet and had about a pint of blood extracted in a hotel room. Blood was reinfused about halfway through the race. Hamilton said he did not personally witness Armstrong's extraction but did see the reinfusion.

Bedeviled by the detail

Some of the small things Hamilton described could have a big impact on the public and, if the case ever went to trial, on jurors.

• The idea of using "secret" phones to discuss illicit drugs is merely practical, but the image of team staff distributing performance-enhancing drugs in white lunch bags to the favored riders on the team as though they were schoolkids is striking. Hamilton's recollection of his reaction when he was included shows the power of groupthink that helps perpetuate doping.

"In a way, it was also an honor that, 'Wow, like, they think I'm good enough to be with the A-team guys," he said on the show.

• Hamilton's account of Armstrong using an eyedropper to administer a drop of Andriol, a liquid form of testosterone, to teammates and himself after a race paints another ugly picture. In a grimly amusing aside, Hamilton alleged that when Armstrong arranged to send him EPO by mail, an unknown intermediary used either FedEx or DHL. Competition with those very same international packaging services was one of the reasons the U.S. Postal Service decided to sponsor the team in the first place.

• Finally, how much more ironic could it get in this dark saga than code-naming EPO after one of the world's best-known Gothic writers, Edgar Allan Poe?

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford

Enterprise and Olympic Sports
Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.com.