Cyclists testifying in the Armstrong matter say blood doping was done in conjunction with “microdoses” of EPO, injected into the vein instead of under the skin. The dose size and method of injection meant that the drug was out of the system quickly, Hincapie said. In his book, Hamilton notes European laws that prevent surprise testing at night, leaving a big enough window of opportunity for careful PED use.
“This means you can take anything you like, as long as it leaves your system in nine hours or less,” he wrote. “... One tester, a considerate older gentleman who lived an hour away in Barcelona, used to telephone the night before to make sure we were in town, so he didn’t waste a trip.”
Certain drugs that can help performance are allowed under a so-called therapeutic use exemption, essentially a doctor’s approval that there is a legitimate need for it. Fair in theory, but easily abused according to riders.
In his book, Millar talks about the routine use of cortisone, which can “decrease pain and increase strength in the short term.” One of his teammates was a notorious user and another later explained in his own book how to obtain a corticoid prescription by using salt to chafe the scrotum, raising a rash.
In 1999, a few days into his first winning Tour, Armstrong tested positive for corticosteroid. A team assistant named Emma O’Reilly told USADA she was giving Armstrong a massage while team officials concocted a cover story, backdating a prescription that was purportedly to treat a saddle sore.
“It was clear to me after the meeting that Lance’s positive sample was not caused by the medical treatment of a saddle sore and that the only reason he obtained a prescription was to excuse his improper use of a banned substance,” O’Reilly swore in her affidavit.
KEEP IT A SECRET
USADA calls Armstrong’s doping a massive conspiracy. Although a shadow persisted through much of his career, fed by a number of leaks and allegations, deniability was maintained by the omertà of many of those cited in the report.
Armstrong’s celebrity gave him an enormous presence in the sport, which has often deferred to the “patron,” the biggest star of the day. He was famously aggressive with those who questioned his claims of clean riding. And many who could tell the truth had implicated themselves by cheating.
Vaughters, who admits using drugs, recalls a time in 1998 when he was with Armstrong in a hotel room. He said in his affidavit he saw the other rider give himself an injection in the stomach and say “words to the effect of, ‘Now that you are doing EPO, too, you can’t write a book about it.’ From that point on, while I was on the U.S. Postal Service team, Lance was open with me about his use of EPO.”
Former WADA head Dick Pound noted this week the difficulty many would have felt speaking up.
“Some who would have been willing to talk about Armstrong could not afford to defend against actual or threatened lawsuits,” the Canadian told CNN. “Some needed the jobs they had, which would be at risk or disappear if Armstrong wanted that to happen. Others were not willing to risk the harassment and abuse that came from crossing him.”