A French newspaper claimed Friday that Lance Armstrong admitted to doping three years before the first of his seven Tour de France wins in 1999. Armstrong's attorney strongly denied the claim and gave The Associated Press a copy of an affidavit from one of the lead doctors who treated Armstrong's testicular cancer.
The Texan, retired from cycling since his seventh consecutive Tour victory last year, has consistently insisted that he never took banned drugs to enhance his performances. He was never sanctioned for any doping offense during his career.
But Le Monde said former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, recently testified under oath to a Dallas court that Armstrong admitted in 1996 to having taken the blood-boosting hormone EPO and other banned substances. The paper said Frankie Andreu used to be best friends with Armstrong.
Le Monde claimed that Armstrong's alleged admission was made Oct. 28, 1996, to a doctor who was treating him for cancer. Betsy Andreu testified that the doctor asked Armstrong whether he had ever taken doping products, and that the cyclist replied "yes," according to Le Monde. The newspaper said she and her husband were with Armstrong on that day.
"He asks which ones. And Lance replies, 'EPO, growth hormones, cortisone, steroids, testosterone,'" it quoted her as telling the court in January. The newspaper said it obtained a copy of her testimony but did not say how.
Armstrong's attorney, Tim Herman, denied the Andreus' claim, calling it "absurd."
In a sworn affidavit, Dr. Craig Nichols said he began Armstrong's chemotherapy that day, adding that he and other medical personnel visited with Armstrong and discussed his medical history.
Nichols was one of doctors treating Armstrong at Indiana University Medical Center. He is now the chair of hematology-oncology at Oregon Health and Sciences University.
He said Armstrong never discussed performance-enhancing drugs, nor is there any record of such an admission.
"Lance Armstrong never admitted, suggested or indicated that he has ever taken performance-enhancing drugs. Had this been disclosed to me, I would have recorded it, or been aware of it, as a pertinent aspect of Lance Armstrong's past medical history as I always do," Nichols said.
"Had I been present at any such 'confession,' I would most certainly have vividly recalled the fact," Nichols said. "I would have recorded such a confession as a matter of form, as indeed, would have my colleagues. None was recorded."
The court was hearing a case brought by Armstrong against a company that withheld a bonus for his 2004 Tour win because a book alleged that he used performance-enhancers.
Under cross examination, Betsy Andreu could not identify the doctor she said Armstrong spoke to, but said it was not Nichols.
Nichols' affidavit said it was unlikely he would not have been at the meeting she described.
"Though I was not Lance Armstrong's sole physician, I was responsible for the majority of his treatment, and would have been present at every large meeting where discussions took place or decisions were made," Nichols said.
After hearing the evidence, including the Andreus' testimony, the three-member arbitration panel ruled against the company and ordered it to pay Armstrong.
Le Monde said that Frankie Andreu, who raced with Armstrong for the first two of his Tour wins in 1999 and 2000, gave a similar deposition last October, also alleging that Armstrong told the doctor that he used EPO, testosterone, growth hormone and cortisone.
But the newspaper said the Andreus' account was denied by a third person, Stephanie McIlvain, a friend of Armstrong's who supposedly was also at the session with the doctor. She testified that she did not hear Armstrong make such an admission, Le Monde said.
"There were probably 10 people in the room. Betsy was apparently the only one that recalls this alleged incident," Herman said.
In his own defense, Armstrong said in a November deposition to the court that no doctor had asked him whether he had used doping products, according to the newspaper. It said Armstrong also told the court that Betsy Andreu hated him and that Frankie Andreu had gone along with her account to offer her support.
Herman said he has 280 pages of medical records from Indiana University Medical Center, where Armstrong was treated for his cancer, which had spread to his brain, that refute the allegations.
Armstrong's doctors repeatedly asked him during his treatment about substances he may have taken and Armstrong answered only that he occasionally drank beer, Herman said.
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