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AP Interview: Frankie Andreu praises USADA's report on Armstrong's doping

10/12/2012 09:59 EDT | Updated 12/12/2012 05:12 EST
PARIS - For years, Frankie Andreu rode the winding roads and tortuous hills of the Tour de France side by side with Lance Armstrong. That was another era, and the esteem he once had for his former friend and teammate has long gone.

It has been replaced by a feeling of relief after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's damning report on Armstrong this week exposed the sophisticated doping program within the once-admired U.S. Postal Service team they both rode for.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Andreu praised the bravery of those who spoke out against Armstrong and the widespread doping practices inside the team.

"We're kind of getting to the end of this, where we can have some closure on this," said Andreu, who rode with Armstrong at U.S. Postal from 1998-2000. "There's more riders, more people out there, talking about what happened in the past, and I'm not standing out there by myself as a lone figure getting ripped apart by Lance Armstrong while everyone sits back and watches."

In their affidavits to USADA, former USPS riders Christan Vande Velde and David Zabriskie spoke about the intense pressure they were under to dope.

Zabriskie said he "felt cornered" and then, after accepting to dope in 2003, described having 'a breakdown.'"

Vande Velde said Armstrong told him that if he wanted to stay on his team then he must follow "to the letter" the instructions of Michele Ferrari — the Italian doctor who, according to testimonies, implemented sophisticated doping training plans.

"I feel really bad for Vande Velde and Zabriskie," Andreu said. "Because Lance has so much power and influence and decides who's on the team, who's fired, how much money you're making."

In his affidavit, George Hincapie recalls how USPS team manager Johan Bruyneel ordered him to conduct a drug sweep of Armstrong's apartment after the 2005 Tour "to make sure there were no doping materials in the apartment."

Andreu quit the team and professional racing in late 2000 after failing to agree to terms on a new contract. At the time, it left a sour taste in his mouth. Now he is thankful that he got out.

"I wouldn't work with Ferrari, and I was fired. In a way I'm lucky, because I see what the other guys had to go through and how extensive the doping programs became," Andreu said. "If somebody found out that I was working with Ferrari, for me that alone was a death sentence.

"I wasn't going to go down that road, and ultimately that might have cost my job ... I took EPO, but I didn't go down the road of cortisone, growth hormones, blood transfusions," he added. "That whole era was the wild west ... I got out at the end of 2000, it seemed like, after that, it really exploded and became more commonplace."

In 2006, Andreu admitted in a New York Times interview that he had used EPO in his career. He felt he had to confess, although he accepts there was no excuse.

"I mean, to be able to just keep up I had to take EPO. There's no way I would have survived to be able to race in '99. After that, I got tired of needles and injections, so in 2000 I was like 'I'm not doing this anymore' and stopped," Andreu said. "You had to (dope) because everybody else was, and to just say 'No, I'm not taking it' and just quit the sport, that would have been throwing away years and years of your love, your passion, your work."

Although Andreu's confession about his EPO use was only six years ago, the gulf — between the few who spoke up back then, and the 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong to USADA — is massive.

Andreu and his wife testified in the case involving Dallas-based SCA Promotions Inc. against Armstrong.

Armstrong and SCA went to arbitration after the company withheld a $5 million performance bonus it owed Armstrong for his 2004 Tour de France win. SCA had cited published allegations Armstrong was doping, which he denied. Betsy Andreu claimed that days after Armstrong underwent brain surgery in 1996, he told a doctor he used EPO and other drugs. Frankie also gave similar testimony.

"(Armstrong has) been so aggressive towards (my wife) Betsy and so aggressive in his nature and his influence with everything that he's done," Andreu said.

He praised the work of USADA CEO Travis Tygart and the riders who co-operated with the probe.

"It took a lot of courage from Travis Tygart to move forward with this, considering how powerful Lance is, and I have to commend the riders," Andreu said. "They're talking about their careers now and trying for their whole career not to be a sham. It's very difficult to talk about all the hard work and effort you put in while you were racing, and saying, 'You know what? I was cheating while I was doing this.'"

Among other revelations in USADA's report were allegations that Armstrong and others got away with doping because they were forewarned about tests.

Zabriskie and another former Armstrong teammate — Jonathan Vaughters — and French Anti-Doping Agency officials have all said Bruyneel and his staff "always seemed to know" when testers would arrive, thanks to "an outstanding early warning system."

UCI president Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen have both firmly denied any wrongdoing.

"There was nothing to arrange because there was never a positive test (for Armstrong)," Verbruggen told RMC radio. "We've hidden nothing, never."

Verbruggen was UCI president during the late 1990s and early 2000s — when doping was at its height.

Veteran British cyclist David Millar, who served a two-year ban after admitting to doping in 2004, thinks Verbruggen should resign as the UCI's honorary president.

"The UCI had all the blood data, the medical reports, it was part of the culture of the sport and in the big races the majority of riders were doing it on drugs," Millar said. The first step for the UCI is that Verbruggen has to be removed."

Andreu also feels the UCI still has questions to answer.

"It's important that we figure out how they (the riders) got away with all the cheating and how sophisticated it was," Andreu said. "The UCI, I think, is still a major road block and problem in (the) sport moving forward. It might take a little bit more investigating to see how complicit and how much they were involved in the past, because there wasn't a whole lot written about it in this (USADA) report."

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Jerome Pugmire can be followed at http://twitter.com/jeromepugmire

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