Armstrong "exoneration" under attack

The Dutch lawyer appointed by the UCI to investigate L'Equipe's claims that Lance Armstrong used EPO

The Dutch lawyer appointed by the UCI to investigate L'Equipe's claims that Lance Armstrong used EPO

PIC BY TIM DE WAELE

The UCI this afternoon condemned what it called a "premature" declaration by Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman to the effect Lance Armstrong did not use EPO in the 1999 Tour de France, as French newspaper L'Equipe had claimed last August.

The lawyer, Mr Emile Vrijman, was commissioned by the UCI last October to investigate L'Equipe's claims. According to Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, Vrijman concluded at the end of a 132-page report that "Lance Armstrong is absolutely extraneous to the accusations levelled against him regarding the use of doping products in the 1999 Tour de France."

But this afternoon, the UCI reacted angrily to news of the report's release while the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) reacted to its findings. In a statement, the UCI "deplored" the manner in which Vrijman's conclusions were made public before the interested parties were informed. "Upon reception of the document, the UCI will study in detail the content before publishing it in its whole," the UCI said in a statement.

WADA president Dick Pound was critical for different reasons, casting doubt on the Vrijman's expertise and his report, which Pound admitted that he had not yet read. "It's clearly everything we feared. There was no interest in determining whether the samples Armstrong provided were positive or not," Pound told The Associated Press by telephone from Montreal. "We were afraid of that from the very beginning."

It is unclear on what grounds Vrijman rejected L'Equipe's claims that six of Armstrong's urine samples from the 1999 Tour contained EPO, but the Dutch lawyer was unequivocally scathing of WADA's role in the affair. Vrijman accused WADA and the laboratory which carried out the retrospective tests on Armstrong's samples last year, the LNDD at Chatenay-Malabry, of behaving "in ways that are completely inconsistent with the rules and regulations of international anti-doping control testing."

Chatenay-Malabry carried out the tests on leftover urine samples from the 1999 Tour as part of a WADA-sanctioned project to refine the existing EPO-test method. L'Equipe later obtained the results of the tests and Armstrong's doping control forms - cross-referencing the two sets of data to allege that Armstrong had taken EPO. The seven-time Tour champion has always strongly denied all allegations of doping.

In his report, Vrijman accused the Chatenay-Malabry lab of violating confidentiality regulations by carrying out the test unbeknownst to Armstrong and releasing the results to L'Equipe. He also recommended convening a tribunal to discuss possible legal and ethical violations by the WADA and to consider "appropriate sanctions to remedy the violations".

Pound counter-attacked by commenting of Vrijman: "Whether the samples were positive or not, I don't know how a Dutch lawyer with no expertise came to a conclusion that one of the leading laboratories in the world messed up on the analysis. To say Armstrong is totally exonerated seems strange" .

In a separate statement, WADA said: "Elementary courtesy and professionalism would have dictated that WADA should have been provided with a copy of the report before interviews were given to the media".

The communiqu continued: "WADA continues to stress its concern that an investigation into the matter must consider all aspects - not limited to how the damaging information regarding athletes' urine samples became public, but also addressing the question of whether anti-doping rules were violated by athletes."

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