GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: a new report that details the doping case against Lance Armstrong.
And once again to Ray Suarez.
RAY SUAREZ: His performances made him a household name, first among cycling fans, then in a much wider world. For seven consecutive years, cyclist Lance Armstrong was simply the best, winning the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005.
But even as he was winning, there were growing allegations, persistent rumors that Armstrong’s victories could be tainted by doping, but he fought back, ferociously.
Then, this summer, Armstrong decided to drop his fight against the charges from the United States Anti-Doping Agency. He still maintains he is innocent.
Today, the agency known as USADA issued a long report featuring sworn testimony from 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates. It found there is conclusive and undeniable proof that Armstrong doped throughout the majority of his professional career through a massive doping scheme.
Bill Strickland is editor at large for “Bicycling” magazine and author of “Tour de Lance: The Extraordinary Story of Cycling’s Most Controversial Champion.”
And, Bill, it’s a 200-page report. Lance Armstrong has been fighting these charges for years by dismissing them as old stories. Did they present a convincing case today?
BILL STRICKLAND, “Bicycling”: Well, certainly, a lot of the report is sort of an accumulation of evidence that everyone has already heard, but there’s some damning allegations and testimony and corroboration in this report.
RAY SUAREZ: For example?
BILL STRICKLAND: Well, there’s testimony from 11 teammates, and six of those have never had any public dispute with Armstrong. I think he would have a hard time attacking their credibility in court.
RAY SUAREZ: The report paints a portrait of a man who is not just incidentally using drugs in pursuit of professional fame and money, but a ringleader, someone who is the motive force behind his team getting involved in drugs. Tell us more about that part of the story.
BILL STRICKLAND: Well, I think that makes sense.
Lance was the leader of the team in all ways, not just doping. But in terms of equipment, he always made sure they had the best equipment, in terms of training and motivation and whether that motivation came from cheerleading or berating.
And when it came to doping, which seemed to be what you had to do to win in that era, he naturally took the lead. And, as he did with his cancer, when he fought cancer, he found out everything he could about it, very involved with his doctors, very involved with his treatment.
I would think, and this report shows, that he was as involved with his doping program as any of the doctors that were treating them.
RAY SUAREZ: For a decade, Armstrong has taken refuge in the fact that he’s never failed a drugs test. And this is during a time of tightening testing regimes. That’s still true, isn’t it?
BILL STRICKLAND: Well, that is still true.
There are some allegations in the report that — which we have heard before — that he’s failed drug tests and had them covered up. There was a drug test — in his very first Tour de France, he tested positive for a steroid, and there was a prescription eventually produced that seemed to absolve him.
This report alleges, not a new allegation, again, that that was a backdated prescription, it was made up. So, you know, it is true he’s never failed a test. But neither have George Hincapie, his most loyal teammate, who gives testimony in this report that not only did he dope, but he has eyewitness — an eyewitness account of seeing Lance himself dope.
RAY SUAREZ: Along with the testimony of the teammates, there is corroborating evidence of large payments made by wire, e-mails that could be read as incriminating.
In the absence of physical evidence, vial, syringes, blood, there is at least a circumstantial case that something was going on, isn’t there?
BILL STRICKLAND: Right.
And, you know, interestingly, this is the first paper trail that’s ever been established between Lance and doping. There are I think more than $200,000 in payments from Lance to an Italian doctor, Michele Ferrari, who is a very sought-after trainer and doctor of the time and sort of notorious for dealing in EPO.
He sort of said famously EPO is no more dangerous than orange juice. And Ferrari was banned from the sport, and Lance continued working with him, this report shows, after Ferrari was band.
RAY SUAREZ: EPO, a performance-enhancing drug.
Lance Armstrong’s attorney has called this report one-sided, a hatchet job based on pressuring people to testify who were in threat of losing their licenses to race, losing previous winnings. Isn’t there some truth to that, that the USADA can compel people to testify by holding their careers over their head?
BILL STRICKLAND: Oh, yes, absolutely there’s some truth to that.
It’s a messy process. But, you know, to be — it’s not really a hatchet job. It’s more of a chain saw. I mean, it just — it sort of just fells the legend of what happened. And, you know, certainly there are people who give testimony in this, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, who are sort of notorious for their own issues with doping and with telling the truth in the past.
But there are — there are riders who give testimony, including Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie, and a total of six, I think, who are just sort of — would be unimpeachable in court and would — really, their credibility would stand up, I believe, under any interrogation.
RAY SUAREZ: Bill Strickland from “Bicycling” magazine, thanks for joining us.