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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lance Armstrong Doping Story Points Toward S.F. Company

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2011 at 7:54 AM

It's about the EPO.
  • It's about the EPO.

CBS' 60 Minutes shook the sporting world Sunday with extraordinary doping accusations involving the seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.

According to Armstrong's former teammate Tyler Hamilton, Armstrong dosed his own teammates post-race with

droppers-full of steroids, received illicit transfusions of

oxygen-rich blood, and helped in the distribution of banned doping products.

But the 60 Minutes episode also included subtler details drawing potential doping culpability away from Armstrong, and toward team managers working for San Francisco financier Thomas Weisel.

The big news in Sunday evening's 60 Minutes piece was an interview with ex-Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton, an Olympic gold medalist now serving an eight-year ban for doping violations unrelated to Armstrong.

Last July, at about the same time news reports emerged that Hamilton had agreed to speak with federal officials, Armstrong hired a criminal defense attorney. The coincidence seemed portentious because Hamilton had long been considered a potential Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano of cycling, in which a ringleader's lieutenant is so well-placed that his information could bring down an entire organization.

Hamilton didn't disappoint, alleging Armstrong doped during at least three Tour de France wins.

But Hamilton also made statements that seemed to steer the United States Postal Service doping story away from Armstrong, and toward the Tour champion's one-time patron and business partner, Weisel.

UP NEXT: The connection between Armstrong, Weisel, and the USPS racing team.

According to Hamilton, he was actually drawn into the world of illicit syringes, droppers, and pills before Armstrong was even recruited to ride for the U.S. Postal Service, which sponsored a cycling team between 1996 and 2004. Hamilton joined the same team in 1995, when it was called Montgomery-Bell. It was owned by Weisel, and was named after Weisel-founded Montgomery Securities, and sponsor Bell helmets.

Sunday night, CBS reported:

Hamilton told us that doping was happening on the U.S. Postal Service
team before Armstrong joined. The best riders got special treatment.

"I remember seeing some of the stronger guys in the team getting handed
these white lunch bags," Hamilton said. "So finally I, you know,
started puttin' two and two together and you know, basically there were
doping products in those white lunch bags.

You weren't getting one in the beginning?" reporter Scott Pelley asked.

"No," Hamilton said.

He eventually did get a lunch bag.

In 1995, the year Hamilton signed up for Weisel's team, the San Francisco investment banker was frustrated with what had become an expensive hobby, according "Capital Instinctst: Life as an Entrepreneur, Financier and Athlete," a 2003 Weisel autobiography cowritten with technology journalist Richard Brandt. At the time Hamilton joined Montgomery Bell, Weisel "had poured about $5 million of his own money into the team since its inception, with little to show for it."

The next year, however, the Weisel-owned team procured sponsorship from the United States Postal Service. And in 1998, the team recruited Lance Armstrong.

According to the autobiography, "Weisel sought out and hired riders with all the different skills necessary to support Armstrong and help him win the Tour."

But Hamilton said key riders were favored even before Weisel's team signed Armstrong. During the 60 Minutes episode, Pelley pressed Hamilton on details of the purported pre-Armstrong-era "lunch bags" handed to the team's favored riders.

"And inside the bag was what?" Pelley asked.

"In my lunch bag I got EPO. You know, other guys got other things such as growth hormone. I mean, it's sad to say it, I was kinda willing and accepting of the lunch bag, but you know, in a way it was also an honor that, 'Wow, like, they think I'm good enough to be with the 'A' team guys"
Hamilton is alleging here that a systematic doping program was in place at the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team before Armstrong had anything to do with that team. That's crucial because, beginning in 2002, sponsorship contracts between the U.S. government agency and Tailwind Sports, the company Weisel set up to manage the team, included a clause allowing the USPS to shut off its multi-million dollar sponsorship spigot if ever it was learned management had condoned riders' doping.

This brings us to the mysterious, year-old federal investigation spearheaded by Barry Bonds' foe, and USDA investigator, Jeff Novitzky.

UP NEXT: What crimes may have been committed.

In the United States doping is not a crime.

So in trying to speculate what sort of criminal prosecution might emerge from the Novitzky investigation, it's necessary to look at potentially illegal activities related to the alleged U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team doping program.

These might include trafficking, acting as a physician without a license, endangering public health, conspiracy to do any of these, or defrauding the U.S. government.

That last potential offense emerges thanks to that anti-doping clause in the U.S. Postal Service sponsorship contracts.

Had the U.S. government agency been told the truth about doping, it might have been able to halt a sponsorship program reported to have cost the U.S. Postal Service $32 million. But if there was a conspiracy to cheat, it purportedly began without Armstrong's help.

According to CBS:

It was 1997 - Hamilton says he had never doped before, but now a team doctor said that he could make the Tour de France team if he used EPO.

"He recommended and thought it was a good idea for both the team, for myself, and for my health that I take some therapy as he called it. And that was, so he was ... recommending that I take EPO," Hamilton told Pelley.

When asked what he thought in that moment, Hamilton told Pelley, "Yeah it was a pretty emotional moment. I told him that I needed a little bit of time to think about it, and basically I was starting to see a little bit of the dirty side of the sport -- It was tough. I felt like at this point in my career I was so close to the goal, I've gotta do it."

Pelley then asks: "You were concerned in that moment that if you didn't do the EPO you wouldn't make the 'A' team, you wouldn't ride the Tour [de France], is that right?"

"Yeah," Hamilton said. "I kinda felt like I owed it to myself to look the other way and keep going forward.

As a federal investigation continues, the way forward seems less clear for the owner of of the team that allegedly pressured Hamilton to make his choice.

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