Nearly 10 years ago, in an Indiana hospital, a few days after he had cancer surgery, his life at stake and his racing future suddenly very secondary, cyclist Lance Armstrong was allegedly asked by doctors if he had ever taken performance-enhancing substances.
"They began to ask him some questions, banal questions," testified Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former Armstrong teammate. "And all of a sudden, boom, 'Have you ever done any performance-enhancing drugs?' And he said, 'Yes.'
"And they asked, 'What were they?' And Lance said, 'EPO, growth hormone, cortisone, steroid, testosterone.' "
Andreu's testimony, along with much more that raises questions about Armstrong's performance, can be found in thousands of pages of documents sparked by confidential litigation between the world's most famous cyclist and a company that was withholding a $5-million bonus he claimed after winning the 2004 Tour de France. The Times reviewed transcripts of depositions and hearings in the matter — all the testimony delivered under oath — along with a number of exhibits.
Armstrong testified, "The story is not true."
And on Friday, he reacted with anger to publication of portions of Andreu's testimony in the French newspaper Le Monde.
"The latest story, which alleges an admission of using performance-enhancing drugs in a hospital in 1996, is today as absurd and untrue as when it was first circulated years ago," Armstrong said in a statement. "It never happened."
In a settlement dated Feb. 8 of this year that was reached before the three-person arbitration panel made a ruling, Dallas-based SCA Promotions paid Armstrong and bike racing company Tailwind Sports $7.5 million — the $5-million bonus plus interest and lawyers' fees.
Armstrong's statement referred to the settlement, saying, "It's over. We won. They lost. I was yet again completely vindicated."
While the "final arbitration award" notes that the arbitrators signed after "having considered the evidence and testimony," the panel produced no findings of fact. Bob Hamman, SCA's president and chief executive, said in a telephone interview, "The panel did not rule on the case."
In October 1996, nearly three years before he won the Tour de France for the first of his record seven times, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his brain.
About three weeks later, he was operated on in Indianapolis, at Indiana University Medical Center.
According to Betsy Andreu's testimony, a group of well-wishers came to see Armstrong in the hospital on Oct. 27, the Sunday after the operation: her; her husband; Stephanie McIlvain, Armstrong's contact at a longtime sponsor, Oakley, the sunglasses company; Chris Carmichael, Armstrong's coach; Carmichael's then-girlfriend, now his wife, Paige; and Armstrong's then-girlfriend, Lisa Shiels.
A Dallas Cowboys game was on TV, according to testimony. It was there and then, Andreu testified in her deposition and during a closed-door hearing before three arbitrators, that doctors arrived, asked Armstrong if he had taken performance-enhancing drugs and he recited that list: EPO, growth hormone, cortisone, steroids and testosterone — all substances regulated by sports and medical authorities.
"Are you absolutely certain that's what he said?" she was asked.
"Yeah, I'm positive," she testified.
Andreu's husband, Frankie, testified, "I don't know how the doctor phrased the question, but Lance's response was that he had taken EPO and testosterone and growth hormone and cortisone."
At the time, Armstrong's best finish in the Tour de France was 36th, in 1995. He had been an Olympian in 1992 and 1996 and, in 1993, was, at age 21, one of the youngest winners of the World Road Championship.
Frankie Andreu would go on to ride with Armstrong in the first two of Armstrong's Tour victories, 1999 and 2000.
In denying the bedside questioning took place, Armstrong testified that others would have had to have been in the room as well — among them Bill Stapleton, his longtime business advisor.
Questioned about it by Armstrong attorney Tim Herman during the arbitration, Stapleton testified, "And I was there that afternoon through the whole football game."
However, three days later, under cross-examination, Stapleton testified, "Lance had told me it hadn't happened . I wasn't in the room."
Stapleton also testified that "it just defies logic that it would [happen], three days after brain surgery, that his medical history wouldn't have already been taken. But, no, it didn't happen."
Armstrong testified that he doesn't understand "why I would have answered 'I've taken this, this, this and this' when I've never taken performance-enhancing drugs."
Attorney Herman said during a recent telephone interview, "Completely, frankly, it's absurd that a guy would have been in there for a week with every sort of test and numerous medical histories taken and having already been through brain surgery and four days later come up with this out of the clear blue. And it appears nowhere in the 280 pages of medical records.
"It makes no sense."
Craig Nichols, one of the doctors who supervised Armstrong's care, said in a sworn affidavit that he had "no recollection" of any such declaration by Armstrong, adding, "Lance Armstrong never admitted, suggested or indicated that he has ever taken performance-enhancing drugs."
Nichols' affidavit also says that Armstrong, during his recovery from cancer, was given EPO; and that the EPO use stopped in January 1997.
EPO, or erythropoietin, is a hormone produced naturally by the kidneys that stimulates bone marrow to produce red blood cells. A synthetic version has been in use for medical purposes for about 15 years.
Its allure for an athlete who wishes to cheat is simple — the more red blood cells, the more oxygen can be carried to the muscles, enabling that athlete to train, recover and race harder. An EPO test wasn't introduced into professional cycling until 2001.
Nichols' affidavit is signed Dec. 8, 2005; he is now based in Oregon, not Indiana. Betsy and Frankie Andreu's depositions were taken Oct. 25, in Michigan.
On Oct. 27, Indiana University announced that the Lance Armstrong Foundation had funded a $1.5 million endowed chair in oncology.
Asked about the timeline, Armstrong testified: " It was a million and a half dollars, and I understand that's a lot of money. But to suggest that I funded that chair to get an affidavit or to get some clean medical records or some sanitized records is completely ridiculous."
Armstrong was also asked whether he thought Betsy Andreu was "making the story up and she must be doing it out of dislike, hate, venom for you?"
"That's right, yes," he testified.
Asked why Frankie Andreu would corroborate his wife's story, Armstrong replied, "Probably to support his wife, which I don't know if you're married or not, but sometimes is required."
Although he declined to comment further, Frankie Andreu said during a recent telephone interview, "I stand behind my deposition." Betsy Andreu said, "Why would little old me want to go up against Lance and his corporations? For what reason? It doesn't make sense. I didn't ask to be dragged into this mess."
The alleged Indiana hospital incident is alluded to in a 2004 book, published only in French, "L.A. Confidential: Lance Armstrong's Secrets," by David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, that played a key role in sparking the confidential litigation.
McIlvain, the Oakley representative, testified that she recalled being in the room and watching football but aside from that, "I didn't remember anything." A recent call to her cellular phone went dead when a reporter identified himself. Her attorney, Gregory Meeks of Solana Beach, Calif., said, "We do not want to be contacted."
James Startt, a Paris-based freelance journalist who regularly writes about cycling, testified that he and McIlvain talked about the incident at the 2004 Tour de France. Betsy Andreu had told him about it in 2000, and when the opportunity presented itself in 2004, he asked McIlvain about it.
He testified: "I said 'Is it true what happened in that hotel room or what happened what Betsy told me.' And she — she said, 'Yes, it was.' " Startt could not be located Friday for comment.
Greg LeMond, who won the Tour de France three times, testified he had talked to McIlvain on the phone and she was "scared for her job if she — she talked about the hospital scene." He declined to comment.
LeMond also made a tape recording of a lengthy July 21, 2004, phone call he made to McIlvain. In it, according to a transcript of the call, she said, "You know, I was in that room. I heard it."
Lance Armstrong's career highlights:
1993: U.S. national road race championship; world road race championship.
1994: Second place in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
1995: Tour DuPont and San Sebastian Classic winner.
1996: Tour DuPont and Fleche Wallone winner; second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
1998: Tour of Luxembourg winner.
1999: First Tour de France win, second in Amstel Gold Race.
2000: Second Tour de France win, Grand Prix des Nations and Grand Prix Eddy Merckx time trial (with Viatcheslav Ekimov) winner.
2001: Third Tour de France win, Tour of Switzerland winner.
2002: Fourth Tour de France win, Midi Libre and Dauphine Libere winner, Associated Press male athlete of the year.
2003: Fifth Tour de France win, Dauphine Libere winner, AP male athlete of the year.
2004: Sixth Tour de France win, Tour de Georgia winner, AP male athlete of the year.
2005: Seventh Tour de France win.
Source: Lancearmstrong.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times