Lance Armstrong, on the eve of the Tour de France, has been formally charged by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of using performance-enhancing drugs throughout the prominent years of his career that included seven straight wins in cycling’s pinnacle event.
Armstrong, former team manager Johan Bruyneel and several other Armstrong team associates were notified of charges via letter.
If found guilty in the case that will go before an arbitration panel, Armstrong could be stripped of the Tour de France titles he won from 1999-2005.
The 99th Tour de France begins Saturday in Liege, Belgium.
Armstrong maintains his innocence and his attorney Robert Luskin called the charges “wrong and baseless.”
Former team doctors Pedro Celaya Lezama and Luis Garcia del Moral; team trainer Pepe Marti, and consulting doctor Michele Ferrari have also all been charged.
Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie, both of Garmin-Sharp, Levi Leipheimer (Omega-Pharma Quick Step) and George Hincapie (BMC), all former Armstrong teammates at various stages of their careers, asked to be taken out of consideration for U.S. Olympic team consideration June 20 but didn’t give reasons.
But all four former Armstrong teammates are competing in this year’s Tour de France.
Armstrong and the others “(have) been part of a doping conspiracy involving team officials, employees, doctors and elite cyclists,” said the USADA letter, which the news service Associated Press said it has obtained.
The letter accuses Armstrong of using, possessing and trafficking banned substances including the blood-booster EPO, blood transfusions and steroids. The charges date to 1998, after he had been declared cancer free but before his first Tour de France victory the following summer.
Bruyneel, currently the manager of the Radioshack-Nissan-Trek team, recently announced he would skip this year’s Tour because of the USADA investigation.
USADA says it has at least 10 former Armstrong teammates and associates who will testify against the cyclist, and blood samples from 2009 and 2010 that are “fully consistent” with blood doping.
Armstrong and the others charged have until July 9 to inform USADA if they plan to challenge the evidence before an arbitration panel.
Armstrong retired from cycling last year, and in February a two-year federal investigation centering on alleged drug use by Armstrong and his teams closed with no charges being filed.
“It is the entirely predictable product of USADA’s toxic obsession with Lance Armstrong and a process in which truth is not a priority,” Luskin told the AP. “There is not one shred of credible evidence to support USADA’s charges and an unbroken record of more than 500 clean tests over more than a decade and a half to refute it.”
Via a statement, USADA officials commented:
“All respondents will have the opportunity to exercise their right to a full public arbitration hearing, should they so choose, where all evidence would be presented, witness testimony would be given under oath.”