Lance Armstrong got preferential treatment from officials at cycling’s governing body after failing a test for a performance-enhancing drug in 2001, his former teammate Tyler Hamilton said in an interview with CBS Corp.’s “60 Minutes” program.
Hamilton, 40, said he saw Armstrong doping on numerous occasions and that the seven-time Tour de France winner and leaders for the U.S. Postal Service cycling team encouraged the use of performance-enhancing substances.
Hamilton, who last week returned the Olympic gold medal he won in 2004, also challenged Armstrong’s assertion that he’s never failed a drug test. Hamilton said Armstrong told him about testing positive for erythropoietin, or EPO, at the Tour of Switzerland in 2001.
“Lance’s people and people from the other side -- I believe from the governing body of the sport -- figured out a way for it to go away,” Hamilton said in the “60 Minutes” interview.
The International Cycling Union, or UCI, denied today that there had been any coverup of a positive test by Armstrong.
“The allegations of Mr. Tyler Hamilton are completely unfounded,” the Aigle, Switzerland-based UCI said in a statement. “The UCI can only express its indignation at this latest attempt to damage the image of cycling by a cyclist who has not hesitated to abuse the trust of all followers of cycling on several occasions in the past.”
The director of the Swiss laboratory that performed the test met with Armstrong and then-U.S. Postal Service team manager Johan Bruyneel, “60 Minutes” reported.
The meeting was arranged by the UCI, the report said. The Swiss lab director told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that a UCI representative wanted Armstrong’s suspicious test to go no further, according to the “60 Minutes” report.
Bruyneel didn’t return telephone messages left after office hours. A positive test could have kept Armstrong, who was then the two-time defending champion, out of the 2001 Tour de France.
“He was so relaxed about it. He kind of said it off the cuff and kind of laughed it off,” Hamilton said of Armstrong. “It helped me stay relaxed because obviously if he had a positive test the team is going to lose its sponsorship and I’m going to lose my job.”
Armstrong’s spokesman Mark Fabiani said in a statement that CBS has shown a “serious lack of journalistic fairness and has elevated sensationalism over responsibility.”
Hamilton, who was suspended in 2005 and 2009 for doping, said in the “60 Minutes” interview that he saw EPO in Armstrong’s refrigerator, and witnessed Armstrong inject himself with the drug multiple times. EPO boosts the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells and improves stamina.
“He took what we all took. There’s really no difference between Lance Armstrong and the majority of the peloton,” Hamilton said. “There was EPO, there was testosterone and I did see a transfusion, a blood transfusion.”
Fabiani said that Armstrong, 39, has taken and passed more than 500 doping tests over 20 years of competitions.
The “60 Minutes” report also said George Hincapie, a former teammate and close friend of Armstrong, testified before a grand jury investigating doping in the sport that he and Armstrong supplied each other with EPO before races. The program didn’t cite the source of its information.
“We are confident that the statements attributed to Hincapie are inaccurate and that the reports of his testimony are unreliable,” Fabiani said in his statement. Hincapie said on Twitter that he can’t comment on anything relating to the ongoing investigation.
Hamilton said he hopes his admission will help cycling and that Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs was no different than any other top riders in the sport.
“He obviously was the biggest rider on the team and he helped to call the shots,” Hamilton said. “Yes he doped himself, you know, like everyone else. It was just part of the culture of the sport.”