Armstrong Teammate Describes Doping System

Lance Armstrong
Joel Saget | AFP | Getty Images
Lance Armstrong

For top riders on the United States Postal Service squad, the powerhouse American cycling team led by Lance Armstrong, duplicity was simply a part of the game, one of Armstrong’s former teammates said.

Tyler Hamilton, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and former Postal Service rider, described the team that way in an interview broadcast Sunday on “60 Minutes,” saying it was a life filled with secret code words, clandestine phone lines and furtive conversations. Riders led double lives that revolved around performance-enhancing drug use, while publicly insisting that the team was clean, he said.

The best cyclists received white lunch bags filled with the blood-booster EPO, human growth hormone and testosterone from team doctors who handed them out casually, as if those bags contained sandwiches and juice boxes. The riders were also given little red pills that contained a testosterone oil they squirted beneath their tongues for a performance boost.

And if a rider needed EPO, or erythropoietin, Hamilton said, he knew exactly where to turn: to Armstrong, the undisputed team leader and the man who needed his teammates’ help to win.

“You know, I reached out to Lance Armstrong, you know,” Hamilton said on “60 Minutes,” describing what he did on one occasion when he needed EPO. “And he helped me out, he helped me out.”

In the next day or two, he said, a package arrived with EPO, with Armstrong acknowledging that he had sent it.

“It was an illegal doping product, but he helped out a friend,” said Hamilton, who helped Armstrong win the Tour de France in 1999, 2000 and 2001. “So I want to make it clear that, you know, if the roles were reversed and I had the connection, I would have done the same, same, thing for Lance.”

Still, on the final day of the Tour of California — which was won by the American Chris Horner, Armstrong’s former teammate on the RadioShack squad — another huge crack appeared in Armstrong’s formerly unbreakable facade. The code of silence in cycling that long protected a culture of drug use continued to crumble, with damage done by riders once in Armstrong’s inner circle.

Last year at the Tour of California, Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title for doping, also came forward with allegations against Armstrong. Landis admitted to doping and said that Armstrong was the kingpin of drug use on the Postal Service team and that he and team management had encouraged it. A year later, it was Hamilton’s turn to speak out.

Armstrong, the seven-time Tour winner and cancer survivor, who has never been penalized for doping, has denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs. He said Landis and Hamilton should not be believed because they lack credibility.

But their confessions are doing more than just shedding light on cycling’s underworld. They are helping form the base of a federal investigation of Armstrong for crimes related to doping.

Armstrong is under federal investigation for crimes including fraud, conspiracy, drug trafficking and money laundering, said a person briefed on the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly on it.

Armstrong’s spokesman, Mark Fabiani, said the latest accusations were fueled by a desire for publicity and greed because Hamilton is writing a book, which he is. Regarding Sunday’s report, Fabiani said in an e-mail, “Throughout this entire process, CBS has demonstrated an unpardonable zeal to smear Lance Armstrong.”

Nearly five years ago, the former Postal Service rider Frankie Andreu told The New York Times that he used EPO to help Armstrong win the 1999 Tour. Only one other rider on that Tour team backed Andreu’s revelations, and that rider did not give his name because he did not want to jeopardize his job in the sport. It took four years for another top Postal Service rider to come forward.

“Better late than never, but where was Tyler when Frankie confessed and was out there all on his own?” Betsy Andreu, Frankie’s wife and a longtime critic of Armstrong, said. She added that her husband’s postcompetition career in cycling had been affected by his confession in 2006. He lost jobs in cycling, and she and he were subsequently blackballed, she said.

"Just because you lied before doesn’t mean you aren’t telling the truth now." -World Anti-Doping Agency, David Howman

“Honestly, it is a relief that Tyler finally came forward,” Betsy Andreu said. “For a long time, people had so much fear of Lance.”

A grand jury has been investigating Armstrong since last summer, with several government agencies involved. Hamilton, a 40-year-old retired racer, came face to face with those investigators last year when they asked him to cooperate with their inquiry. He declined to, the CBS report said, and received a subpoena to testify to the grand jury.

After years of lying about his drug use, Hamilton — who is serving his second doping suspension — was forced to make a choice: tell the truth or face prosecution for perjury.

He decided to tell the truth, he said, and a burden built by years of guilt was lifted. Hamilton, once known as the nicest, most polite guy in the sport, voluntarily surrendered his Olympic gold medal to the United States Anti-Doping Agency last week.

David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, praised Hamilton for confessing, despite how long it took.

“It would be silly to put someone down if they finally decide to confess,” he said. “Just because you lied before doesn’t mean you aren’t telling the truth now. It just means you lied previously. It shouldn’t affect the way you are perceived for the rest of your life.”

He said athletes should not be afraid to expose the underbelly of their sports, because the drug-testing system has its faults.

“You can’t rely on sample collection and analysis alone because it can be beaten,” he said. “Marion Jones beat the testing system for years, and we know she wasn’t alone.”

Jones never tested positive and vehemently denied ever doping, but in 2007 confessed to her complex drug regimen. She served six months in prison partly for lying to federal investigators about that drug use.

Hamilton, though, will not be prosecuted unless he lied to the grand jury. So he decided to reveal once-sacred secrets.

He said top riders on the Postal Service had secondary cellphones on which to speak about doping. They used the code words “Poe” or “Edgar Allan Poe” for EPO, in case the authorities were listening, he said.

When he received his first lunch bag filled with EPO, Hamilton said he saw it as an honor because he felt as if he was finally good enough to “be with the A-team guys.” On another occasion, he said, he accompanied Armstrong on a private jet to Spain, where he, Armstrong and another teammate had their blood extracted for reinfusion 10 days before the 2000 Tour de France. Before another race, Armstrong dropped liquid testosterone under his tongue, then administered it to Hamilton and another rider, Hamilton said.

As Landis did last year, Hamilton said he had conversations with Armstrong about a drug test Armstrong is suspected of failing at the 2001 Tour de Suisse.

“I feel bad that I had to go here and do this,” Hamilton said. “But I think at end of the day, like I said, long term, the sport’s going to be better for it.

He added: “Well, there’s a lot of other cheats and liars out there, too, who’ve gotten away with it. It’s not just Lance, you know? I mean, with a little luck, I’d still be out there today being a cheat and liar.”