Armstrong denies charges, crashes out

Exits Tour on same day Landis levels doping accusations

May 20, 2010 

VISALIA — Lance Armstrong got a double dose of pain Thursday morning — first from new doping charges, and then from a crash that took him out of this year's Tour of California.

In a whirlwind of activity before Stage 5 of the cycling race Armstrong first denied allegations made by former teammate Floyd Landis before injuring himself about an hour later in a crash near the start of the 121.5-mile stage to Bakersfield. The seven-time Tour de France champion — who drew big cheers during the finish of Stage 4 in Modesto on Wednesday — was forced to abandon the eight-day race Thursday with a cut below his left eye and a bruised left elbow.

Earlier in the day, the strongest doping allegations yet against Armstrong surfaced in a barrage of detailed messages from Landis, the disgraced rider who finally confessed to years of cheating himself.

He alleged Armstrong not only joined him in doping but taught others how to beat the system and paid the former president of the International Cycling Union to keep a failed test quiet.

"I would say I'm a little surprised, but I'm not," Armstrong said in a hastily called news conference before a throng of about 40 journalists outside his team bus before the stage.

"In all honesty, this has been going on for a long time. The harassment and threats from Floyd started really a couple of years ago. And at the time, we largely ignored him. Finally a year ago I told him, 'listen, you do what you have to do, we've got nothing to say and nothing to hide.' "

Landis' allegations didn't put a damper on the support Armstrong received from the crowd gathered around Visalia. Hand-written signs with messages such as "Lance 4 President," "Go Lance" and "We Love You, Lance" were sprinkled among the people who lined Main Street for the start of a stage that would travel through Farmersville, Exeter, Lindsay, Porterville and into the foothills on its way to Bakersfield.

Jeff Bach, a graphic designer who traveled from Kansas City, Mo., to follow the tour, wasn't swayed by Landis' charges.

"There is no reason not to believe Lance is not clean," said Bach, who displayed two hand-crafted murals of Armstrong as the cyclist left the team bus on his way to joining the peloton. "He's pretty much a medical miracle. I see no reason he'd need PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs)."

Said Dave Firstman of Visalia: "Lance has been in the sport 25 years and has probably been the most scrutinized pro athlete of all time, and he always comes up clean. What else can the guy do but say he's innocent? It's sour grapes by Floyd."

Landis' charges

Until Thursday, Landis — the 2006 Tour de France champion who was later stripped of the title and banned from the sport for two years because of a failed doping test — had strenuously denied using performance-enhancing drugs and spent millions of dollars defending that claim before reversing course through a series of e-mails to Tour of California sponsors and officials that were first reported on by the Wall Street Journal.

Considering Landis' e-mails were nearly a month old, Armstrong said he was surprised they didn't leak before the start of the race Sunday in Nevada City, and indicated Landis used them to try and get himself in the Tour of California field.

As he has done in the past, Armstrong denied using drugs and pointed the finger back at the source.

"Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago," he said.

Landis' claims that Armstrong and longtime coach Johan Bruyneel paid an UCI official to cover up a test in 2002 after Armstrong purportedly tested positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO. The UCI, however, denied changing or concealing a positive test result.

In an e-mail Landis sent to USA Cycling chief Steve Johnson, he said Armstrong's positive EPO test was in 2002, around the time he won the Tour de Suisse. Armstrong won the Tour de Suisse in 2001 and did not compete in 2002.

"We're a little confused, maybe just as confused as you guys," Armstrong said, with Bruyneel by his side. "The timeline is off, year by year."

Landis also implicated other cyclists, including longtime Armstrong confidant George Hincapie and three-time defending Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer, and acknowledged using human growth hormone starting in 2003. The Wall Street Journal reported another e-mail from Landis also linked another top American racer, Dave Zabriskie, to doping.

"He pointed a finger at everyone still involved in cycling," Armstrong said.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency also declined comment.

In an interview with ESPN, Landis said, "I take responsibility for all the stuff I did. No one gave me something and said, 'Don't ask what this is, just take it.' I would never have done that."

More accusations from Landis could be coming, however. In his e-mail to Johnson, Landis indicated he has several diaries detailing other experiences.

Said Bruyneel, "I've always known Floyd as an angry person; somebody who's basically angry with the world. It sounds like he just wants to drag down people who are still there and enjoying this."

Armstrong's injuries

Team RadioShack spokesman Philippe Maertens said Armstrong was evaluated after the crash in the team bus by doctors who gave him eight stitches below his left eye. Armstrong then was taken to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital for precautionary X-rays, which were negative.

The cyclists were on a two-lane road outside Visalia a few miles into the race when a rider in the main group skidded on some gravel and fell, causing others, including Armstrong, to crash.

"I tried to give it a go," Armstrong said in a statement, "but my eye was swollen so I couldn't see properly and the pain in the elbow prevented me from holding the bars for the remainder of the stage. It was a relief to learn there were no breaks. I will take a few days to recover and be on the bike as soon as possible."

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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