Report forwarded to cycling body, WADA
Lance Armstrong's team manager and longtime friend Johan Bruyneel on Monday strongly disputed a report that the cyclist deliberately stalled a representative of the French anti-doping agency (AFLD) during an out-of-competition test on March 17.
Armstrong was training in southern France at the time in preparation for the Milan-San Remo one-day race. Unsourced reports on several French Web sites and Radio Monte Carlo stated that Armstrong kept the doctor sent by the AFLD waiting for 30 minutes behind a closed door before giving samples. The French daily sports newspaper L'Equipe reported that the AFLD had filed a report about the incident and forwarded it to the UCI, cycling's international governing body, and WADA.
AFLD head Pierre Bordry would not confirm any details about the report. "I am not making any judgment on what is in the report, because I'm not certain that it's an infraction," Bordry told ESPN.com.
Bordry said he was still awaiting a formal response from the UCI, but federation spokesman Enrico Carpani told ESPN.com that the UCI has no jurisdiction over this kind of issue. "The rules are very clear," Carpani said. "Any out-of-competition control made by a national anti-doping agency has to be managed by them."
Bruyneel, who said he and Armstrong were returning from a training session when they encountered the AFLD tester waiting outside Armstrong's rented home in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France, said there was no effort to thwart the anti-doping control.
The Belgian manager of Armstrong's Astana team -- who also directed the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams during Armstrong's seven-year reign as Tour de France champion -- said the tester was cordial, but spoke accented English. Armstrong asked Bruyneel, who speaks fluent French, to interpret.
"He was very friendly, we were very friendly," Bruyneel told ESPN.com from a Spanish hospital where he was visiting his wife and newborn son. "I asked him to show us his documents and credentials, and he did."
Bruyneel said he called UCI chief Pat McQuaid to make sure the AFLD had the authority to test Armstrong out of competition. He said McQuaid transferred him to UCI anti-doping policy manager Anne Gripper, who confirmed the request was valid. (Gripper could not be immediately reached for comment by ESPN.com.) "I was on the phone for maybe 10, 12, 15 minutes," Bruyneel said. "Lance took a shower and put on shorts and a T-shirt, and then he gave the samples, which took about an hour and a half."
Under AFLD rules, and those of the World Anti-Doping Agency, testers must keep athletes in sight from the time they are notified of a test until the time samples are collected. Bruyneel said that the tester, who was waiting outside, could not see Armstrong the entire time, but also did not ask to come in or at any time tell Bruyneel that he had to stay with Armstrong. "There was never any feeling of tension, of 'I have to get in,'" Bruyneel said. "It was always a very friendly conversation."
However, Bruyneel said the tester, while waiting, did have a more animated phone conversation with a higher-ranking AFLD official whose angry tone was audible.
The AFLD has the authority to test any athlete covered by the WADA code who is in France for any reason. This March training period marked Armstrong's first visit to the country as an active athlete since he came out of retirement last August.
Since then, Armstrong has been tested numerous times by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and like most athletes who have become accustomed to being tested at home, he generally knows the people who come to his door. Bruyneel said he was simply being prudent in this instance.
"Someone like Lance has to be careful," Bruyneel said.
"At the end of the day, I can't hide my feeling that this is a witch hunt. He was giving blood, urine and hair. What is he going to do, shave his head?"
On the day of the test in question, the seven-time Tour de France winner, who has had to defend himself against doping allegations throughout his career, told his online followers that it was his 24th anti-doping control since returning to the professional ranks last August after a three-year retirement.
"Yet another 'surprise' anti-doping control," he said via Twitter. "This one from the French authorities. Urine, blood and hair! Classic." Two hours later, he added, "So I'm clear -- never complaining about these tests. Def [sic] part of the job. Feel targeted? Of course. But anything to prove I'm clean. Onward."
The day after the test, Jean-Pierre Verdy, the AFLD's director of anti-doping controls, told Reuters that Armstrong "was surprised we asked for a hair sample. He asked some questions." Verdy made no mention of any problems at that time, and Bordry told reporters that the test was designed to show that Armstrong was "a rider like any other." Armstrong wrote his Twitter followers that he was displeased the AFLD officials had commented on what he considered a confidential matter.
Hair testing is still relatively unusual in anti-doping efforts. Results of hair testing are not accepted by the UCI or WADA, but French officials recently conducted testing of athletes in several sports to try to detect the presence of steroid precursors like DHEA.
Armstrong and the AFLD have a contentious history and have feuded publicly on a few occasions since he announced his return, starting with Bordry's offer last fall to retest Armstrong's old Tour de France urine samples. The cyclist said he would not trust the agency's work, and Bordry retorted that Armstrong should welcome the opportunity to show his samples were clean.
Their debate was essentially a follow-up to the events of August 2005, when L'Equipe reported that Armstrong's backup urine samples from the 1999 Tour, retested for research purposes, showed evidence that he had used the banned blood booster EPO. (The samples were not eligible to be used for sanctioning.) Armstrong has consistently maintained he never used performance-enhancing drugs and said the only way those samples could have been dirty was if they were spiked. Agency officials and prominent Australian anti-doping researcher Michael Ashenden -- who testified against Armstrong in an unrelated arbitration hearing -- have said that is not possible.
Armstrong is currently in Aspen, Colo., recovering from a fractured collarbone that has made his spring schedule a work in progress. He is training inside on a stationary bike and outside on the road as weather and his pain level permit. His right clavicle, broken into four segments when he crashed during a race in Spain on March 23, is held together with a stainless steel plate and a dozen screws installed during a March 25 surgery.
Assuming a normal healing process, the injury should not jeopardize Armstrong's participation in July's Tour de France, but it will be a challenge for him to be in racing form for the Tour of Italy, which starts May 9.
"Right now, the goal is still to get to the Giro, but obviously the expectations have scaled way back," Armstrong's longtime trainer Chris Carmichael said late last week. " Every day, he feels better, and the general rule we're following is that he can ride as long as he can tolerate the pain. You have to be really open about what you're doing, because stuff is going to change rapidly."
Usually, a rider is able to get back on a stationary bike within a few days to maintain cardiovascular fitness, but has to hold back longer on riding that stresses the upper body, chiefly crouching in the time trial position, or climbing.
Generally speaking, a cyclist with a complex fracture (as opposed to a "simple" fracture involving only one break) might take slightly longer to return to training on the road -- perhaps three weeks instead of two, according to Dr. Ramin Modabber, an orthopedic surgeon in practice in Santa Monica, Calif., who serves as official race doctor for the Tour of California. But Modabber emphasized that no two athletes react the same way.
Armstrong said on his Twitter feed that he took his first ride outdoors eight days after his surgery and apparently has continued to do some outdoor training.
"He's itching to get back, but he's not going to do anything stupid," Carmichael said.Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com.
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