PARIS - Lance Armstrong welcomed an investigative report into the murky past of cycling's governing body and said he hopes it can help the sport move on from an era that will always be remembered for the doping by himself and others.
The report turned up no evidence to sustain previous allegations that Armstrong paid the UCI to cover up a positive doping test back in his heyday, yet it explains in great detail how the UCI acted favourably toward Armstrong — a rider dubbed "cycling's pop star."
The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) was requested by Brian Cookson, the current UCI president. Its report examined how the doping culture during Armstrong's era was allowed to fester under the previous UCI leadership of former president Pat McQuaid and predecessor Hein Verbruggen.
"I am grateful to CIRC for seeking the truth and allowing me to assist in that search. I am deeply sorry for many things I have done," Armstrong said in a statement. "It is my hope that revealing the truth will lead to a bright, dope-free future for the sport I love, and will allow all young riders emerging from small towns throughout the world in years to come to chase their dreams without having to face the lose-lose choices that so many of my friends, teammates and opponents faced."
Armstrong is trying to overturn a life ban imposed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He was stripped of his seven Tour titles for doping on every one of his wins from 1999-2005.
Armstrong's attorney, Elliot Peters, said Armstrong "co-operated fully" with senior investigators over two days, answering all questions "without any restrictions" and providing "all documents requested to which he had access."
In their affidavits provided to USADA — whose scathing report in 2012 exposed systematic doping by Armstrong and others — former U.S. Postal teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis declared that Armstrong had told them separately that he tested positive for the performance enhancer EPO at the 2001 Tour de Suisse.
Landis claimed that the test was hushed up as a result of a financial agreement with Verbruggen.
Armstrong was tested five times during the 2001 Tour de Suisse. Three samples were tested for EPO and they came back negative, although there was a "strong suspicion" that two of the "A'' samples did contain traces of the banned blood booster, the CIRC report said — adding that it deemed inappropriate the fact that "Armstrong and his entourage were informed by the UCI of these suspect test results."
A year later, Armstrong sent Verbruggen a letter containing a check for $25,000 as a donation toward the fight against doping.
Although CIRC has "not found any indication of a financial agreement" the report said the "UCI did not act prudently in accepting a donation from an athlete" already under suspicion.
The collusion between Armstrong and the UCI's leadership features strongly in the 227-page report.
Armstrong's lawyers were allowed to draft parts of a supposedly independent report, which sought to debunk French daily L'Equipe's claims in 2005 that Armstrong's samples at the 1999 Tour later tested positive for EPO.
The independent report into the '99 allegations, which was led by Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman, was heavily criticized because it "specifically excluded an examination of the EPO test," meaning it deliberately avoided addressing whether Armstrong used the substance.
The Vrijman report coincided with an agreement between Armstrong and the UCI that he would donate $100,000 for the purchase of a Sysmex blood testing machine. This prompted allegations that his latest donation to the UCI's anti-doping cause was an indirect payment to help fund the Vrijman report and quash L'Equipe's story.
The CIRC did not find "any evidence to corroborate" such allegations but said the UCI acted improperly "in soliciting and accepting donations from an athlete" under increasing suspicion.
The close-knit relationship helped Armstrong on the '99 Tour when he tested positive for a banned corticosteroid. Armstrong did not declare pre-race that he was using medication — even though the argument he used for using a corticoid cream was to treat saddle sores. Rather than start disciplinary proceedings, the UCI accepted a backdated prescription and cleared him.
Armstrong, having retired after the 2005 Tour, was also cleared by the UCI to make his comeback at Australia's Tour down Under in 2009 — despite not being eligible because he had not been in the UCI's doping testing pool for a six-month period beforehand.
McQuaid first wrote to Armstrong, firmly telling him he could not race. But two days after that, McQuaid informed him that he could compete. The same day, Armstrong told McQuaid that he would race in the 2009 Tour of Ireland, which McQuaid was keen to promote in his homeland.
In one email sent to McQuaid, written at the time of USADA's impending investigation, a UCI consultant refers to Armstrong as "cycling's pop star" and states clearly that for the sake of its image the "UCI has an interest that LA is acquitted."