With the cycling season kicking into high gear, the strongest doping allegations yet against Lance Armstrong surfaced Thursday in a barrage of detailed messages from Floyd Landis, the disgraced rider and former teammate who finally confessed to years of cheating himself.
In a series of e-mails sent to sponsors and sports officials, Landis 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.
“We have nothing to hide,” Armstrong said at an impromptu news conference before the fifth stage of the Tour of California.
“Credibility,” the seven-time Tour de France winner said in Visalia. “Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago.”
In two e-mails obtained by The Associated Press, Landis also admitted for the first time what had long been suspected — that he was guilty of doping for several years before being stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title.
“I want to clear my conscience,” Landis told ESPN.com. “I don’t want to be part of the problem any more.”
Neither Landis nor his family returned repeated messages from the AP.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the details of the e-mails on its website early Thursday. The newspaper also reported Landis was cooperating with the Food & Drug Administration’s criminal investigations unit and had met with FDA special agent Jeff Novitzky, the lead investigator in the BALCO case.
Landis alleged that Armstrong and longtime coach Johan Bruyneel paid former UCI president Hein Verbruggen to cover up a test in 2002 after Armstrong purportedly tested positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO. The UCI 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,” Armstrong said.
The e-mail to Johnson also said: “Look forward to much more detail as soon as you can demonstrate that you can be trusted to do the right thing.”
Landis also implicated at least 16 other people in various doping acts, including longtime Armstrong confidant George Hincapie, Olympic medalist Levi Leipheimer and Canadian cyclist Michael Barry.
The Wall Street Journal reported another e-mail from Landis also linked another top American racer, Dave Zabriskie, to doping.
“At the end of the day, he pointed the finger at everybody still involved in cycling, everybody that’s still enjoying the sport, everybody that still believes in the sport, everybody that’s still working in the sport, was in the crosshairs,” Armstrong said. “Yes, I’m standing here with all you guys because I won the Tour de France seven times.”
Landis said he was asked at one point to stay in an apartment where Armstrong was living in 2003 and check the temperature in a refrigerator where blood was being stored for future transfusions.
“Mr. Armstrong was planning on being gone for a few weeks to train he asked me to stay in his place and make sure the electricity didn’t turn off or something go wrong with the referigerator,” Landis wrote.
Landis is part of a long list of former Armstrong teammates and former U.S. Postal Service riders who have either acknowledged or been caught doping.
Frankie Andreu has said he used EPO while preparing for the Tour de France on Armstrong’s team in the late 1990s. Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton tested positive after the 2004 Athens Games, kept his medal on what amounted to a technicality, then retired last year after telling the AP he knowingly took a banned steroid. Roberto Heras was stripped of his win at the Spanish Vuelta in 2005 and Spanish rider Manuel Beltran was kicked out of the Tour de France, both found to have used EPO.
Hincapie said he was “really disappointed” by the allegations. Jim Ochowicz, a former top USA Cycling official — who was also implicated by Landis — defended himself and Hincapie.
“These allegations are not true, absolutely unfounded and unproven,” said Ochowicz, now the president of BMC Racing, Hincapie’s current team. “This is disappointing to anyone who works in the sport or is a fan of the sport.”
Johnson said USA Cycling would not comment about Landis’ series of e-mails, citing its policy on not discussing “doping allegations, investigations or any aspect of an adjudication process.” The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency also declined comment for similar reasons.
More accusations from Landis could be coming, however. In his e-mail to Johnson, Landis indicated he has several diaries detailing other experiences.
Until about 2005, Armstrong worked extensively with Michele Ferrari, an Italian doctor who was linked to numerous doping issues, but was cleared by an appeals court in 2006. Landis claimed Ferrari extracted “half a liter of blood” from him in 2002, so he could have it transfused during the Tour de France.
“Mr. Armstrong was not witness to the extraction but he and I had lengthy discussions about it on our training rides during which time he also explained to me the evolution of EPO testing and how transfusions were now necessary due to the inconvenience of the new test,” Landis wrote.
Andy Rihs, the owner of the Phonak team for which Landis rode when he won the Tour, issued a statement saying Landis’ claims were “lies” and a “last, tragic attempt” to get publicity. In one of his e-mails, Landis alleges that Rihs was aware of his doping and helped fund it.
Like Armstrong, UCI president Pat McQuaid questioned Landis’ credibility.
“He already made those accusations in the past,” McQuaid said. “Armstrong has been accused many times in the past but nothing has been proved against him. And in this case, I have to question the guy’s credibility. There is no proof of what he says. We are speaking about a guy who has been condemned for doping before a court.”
Armstrong said Landis threatened long ago to go public with these allegations. He finally told him to do whatever he felt was necessary.
“This is a man that’s been under oath several times and had a very different version,” Armstrong said. “This is a man that wrote a book for profit that had a completely different version. This is somebody that took, some would say, close to $1 million from innocent people for his defense under a different premise. Now when it’s all run out, the story changes.”
Later Thursday, Armstrong crashed in the stage near Visalia, Calif., abandoning the race and needing stitches and X-rays, which were negative. It did not seem the wreck would impact plans for the Tour de France and challenging rival-turned-teammate-turned-rival Alberto Contador, the defending champion of the race the Texan once dominated with relative ease.
“I will take a few days to recover and be on the bike as soon as possible,” Armstrong said.
AP Sports Writers Samuel Petrequin in Paris, Rachel Cohen in New York and Graham Dunbar in Geneva, along with Associated Press Writer Mike Rubinkam in Allentown, Pa., contributed to this report.