Former team members of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong were handed down harsh sanctions by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) today, ranging from ten to eight year bans for the former team doctor, coach and trainer. A three-member panel of an American Arbitration Association banned former team director Johan Bruyneel from the sport of cycling for ten years, and former team doctor Pedro Celaya and trainer Jose Marti received eight year bans.
The USADA concluded that, along with Armstrong, the men all conspired to take part in a widespread doping effort with many different professional cyclists over a number of years. Brunyel, the Belgian who led the USPS and Discovery Channel teams during all seven of his Tour De France titles, was the ring-leader, of sorts, and at the center of the controversy, the agency charged. Armstrong and two other men, doctors Michele Ferrari of Italy and Luis Garcia del Moral of Spain, were banned for life when the doping allegations came to light in June of 2012.
According to documents from the investigation, Bruyneel advocated the use of EPO, blood transfusions, and other performance-enhancing drugs such as testosterone and cortisone to athletes. In a statement to the media, the USADA also said that Bruyneel profited the most from the teams’ success and the cyclists under his auspices. Bruyneel refused to cooperate with a 2013 investigation in London and on his website today called himself and Armstrong scapegoats for a time in cycling when everyone was doping, adding that a small percentage of “us” are being made to take the blame for many. Bruyneel, who is banned from the sport through June 11, 2020, said he is considering appealing the decision. Marti also reportedly refused to cooperate with the investigation and Celaya’s testimony was said to be not credible.
Armstrong began his career in professional cycling in with the Motorola team in 1992 at the age of 21. In 1996, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that spread to his lungs, brain and abdomen, and he was given a 40 percent chance to live. In February of 1997, after brain and testicular surgery and four months of chemotherapy, he was declared cancer free. He then founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation to inspire and empower, according to the website, cancer survivors and their families, and also provide support to guide people through the cancer experience. He returned to racing in 1998 with the US Postal team and won the first of his seven consecutive Tour De France titles in 1999.
After facing doping allegations for the majority of his career, beginning with a 2004 book accusing him of doping, Armstrong retired from competitive cycling after the 2005 Tour D e France, but he would return in 2009. He retired again in 2011 amid a federal investigation into charges he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career. In June 2012, the USADA officially charged him with using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. In August of 2012, the USADA announced that it had issued a lifetime ban against Armstrong and subsequently revoked all of his race results after August 1998, including his seven Tour De France titles.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat