COLORADO SPRINGS (AFP) –
Pressure mounted on seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong on Tuesday as three former close associates were banned for life from sport, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced.
Former US Postal doctor Luis Garcia del Moral, Armstrong’s personal trainer and consultant to the team Michele Ferrari and coach “Pepe” Marti were handed life-time bans for their roles in what USADA termed “systematic doping within the team.”
“Permanently banning these individuals from sport is a powerful statement that protects the current and next generation of athletes from their influence, and preserves the integrity of future competition,” read a statement by USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart.
This trio are part of the group of six, including Armstrong, who were accused by USADA in June of being part of a doping conspiracy during the cycling star’s years as Tour de France champion, from 1999 through 2005.
“The respondents chose not to waste resources by moving forward with the arbitration process, which would only reveal what they already know to be the truth of their doping activity,” Tygart said.
“When USADA has information about the existence of a sophisticated, far-reaching doping conspiracy, it is our duty under the established rules to conduct a thorough, fair investigation to uncover the truth.”
The move comes four months after a two-year US government probe into Armstrong ended with no criminal charges filed.
Another doctor Pedro Celaya, who is presently team doctor to the RadioShack team, and sporting director Johan Bruyneel are also accused of being involved.
USADA indicated that Bruyneel will take his challenge of the accusations to arbitration.
Armstrong has denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs, citing the lack of positive drug tests against him. While many see him as a cancer-conquering inspiration, others portray him as a tainted star who beat the anti-doping system.
Armstrong has a Saturday deadline to respond to the USADA charges in what is expected to be a refiling of his federal court case against USADA before the end of the week.
On Monday, Armstrong went to US District Court in Austin, Texas, and asked a federal judge for an inunction against USADA staging a hearing or imposing any punishment.
Armstrong claims USADA lacks jurisdiction in the matter, saying the International Cycling Union (UCI) should press such cases, and that the system USADA uses to judge doping challenges by athletes violates the US Constitution.
But a federal judge dismissed Armstrong’s complaint hours later without ruling on its merits, saying he was free to refile the lawesuit within 20 days and press his challenge of USADA’s doping challenge protocols.
That system would see Armstrong face a hearing in front of a three-member independent arbitration panel with the losing side in the case likely to appeal the outcome as far as the ultimate panel, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
There was no indication from USADA that Italy’s Ferrari or Spaniards Marti and Del Moral have cooperated with USADA in its investigation. Nor did USADA detail its evidence against the three or how it was obtained.
USADA says its evidence shows all three possessed, trafficked in and administered performance-enhancing drugs and assisted others in a conspiracy involving such substances.