French doping probe into U.S. Postal team closed

Posted: Tuesday, September 03, 2002

PARIS (AP) -- An exhaustive doping probe into Lance Armstrong's cycling team was closed last week because of a lack of evidence, a French judicial official said.

After 21 months of inquiries, investigators found no proof that the U.S. Postal Service team used banned substances during the 2000 Tour de France, the official told The Associated Press on Monday, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

Armstrong won his second consecutive Tour title in 2000. He won the Tour for the fourth straight year in July.

''To me, it was like 'Oh, really? Great. Whatever,' '' Armstrong told the Austin American-Statesman on Monday. ''We knew all along there really was no case.

''It took two years to announce something that we knew two weeks into it that there was nothing there. The political process ran its course. ... They got into it, saw they were going to lose, and they didn't know how to handle it. So it went on and on and on.''

U.S. Postal's director of operations Dan Osipow also expected the probe to be dropped.

''It's a relief that it's officially over,'' Osipow told the AP in a phone interview. ''We've expressed our innocence time and time again.

''All along, we felt this conclusion would be found. It's taken a lot longer than anyone expected.''

The judicial official said that none of the tests carried out on blood and urine samples taken from Armstrong and his teammates two years ago showed evidence the cyclists used banned drugs or underwent banned medical procedures.

Investigating judge Sophie-Helene Chateau closed the investigation late last week, following the recommendation of the Paris prosecutor's office.

The deputy director of the Tour de France, Daniel Baal, said the decision to end the probe ''means that all the doubts and all the accusations (against U.S. Postal) had no foundation.''

The probe, which began in November 2000, was launched after a French TV crew filmed U.S. Postal staff disposing of bags of medical waste on an isolated road during that year's race.

The medical waste discarded by U.S. Postal team staff during the 2000 Tour included packaging for Actovegin, a substance made from extracts of calf's blood. Some believe it boosts oxygen levels in the blood.

Cycling's governing body, the UCI, doesn't list Actovegin as a banned substance but prohibits pharmacological or chemical manipulations of blood.

U.S. Postal said none of its riders used Actovegin, which was on hand for treating severe skin abrasions caused by crashes, and for use by a staff member with diabetes.

''Some people may have dreamed of unknown molecules, but it's conceivable that someone rides faster than everyone,'' Armstrong's attorney, Georges Kiejman, told the AP.

Armstrong and teammates refused to submit to further tests when asked to do so in February by French investigators.

Later in the race, Armstrong said the French probe was ''a joke from the beginning.''

''Immediately they (French judicial officials) knew the evidence was clean, but they kept the case open,'' he said. ''It's not an issue any more, they can keep it open, there's nothing there.''

Armstrong has repeatedly denied taking banned substances and has never failed a doping test. He has been dogged by suspicions of drug use in France.

During the Mont Ventoux stage of this year's Tour, Armstrong was heckled by fans who shouted ''Dop-AY! Dop-AY!'' (''Doped! Doped!'').

A trial that resulted from the scandal led to testimony of widespread drug use within cycling.

Doping has continued to overshadow the sport. The wife of Lithuanian rider Raimondas Rumsas, who finished third in this year's Tour, has been in a French jail for more than a month after being caught with performance-enhancing drugs.

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