'No Garmin riders banned in Armstrong case'
Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda manager Jonathan Vaughters has dismissed a report claiming he and team members agreed to accept suspended bans to testify against Lance Armstrong in a US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) case.
On Thursday, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf said Garmin Tour de France riders Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie, and two more American cyclists on other teams, had agreed to give evidence in exchange for delayed six-month bans.
“No 6 mos (months) suspensions have been given to any member of (Garmin-Sharp owner) Slipstream Sports. Today or at any future date,” Vaughters wrote on his Twitter account prior to the fifth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.
When asked by reporters if he had testified against the seven-times Tour de France winner Armstrong, the former professional cyclist refused to comment.
Slipstream Sports later released a statement echoing Vaughters’ views and confirmed its focus was on this year’s Tour de France.
“We won our first Grand Tour in May and to achieve similar success here, we need to focus on that. We can confirm that our team is entirely focused on the Tour and media reports of suspensions are untrue,” the statement said.
“As we have always said, we expect that anyone in our organisation who is contacted by any anti-doping or government authority will be open and honest with that authority but at this moment, we — our organisation, our riders and our staff — are focused on the Tour de France.”
Former Armstrong team mate Levi Leipheimer was the third rider named in the report but the American was reluctant to give any details on his involvement in the case.
“I cannot comment, I’m here to ride my bike,” the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider told reporters.
BMC Racing Team’s George Hincapie, the other rider identified in the report, said in a statement: “I’ve always tried to do the right thing for my sport but I’ve got other things on my mind here.”
Last month, the USADA unanimously recommended filing formal doping charges against Armstrong, who is now retired and denies any wrongdoing.
The USADA said it had at least 10 former team mates and colleagues of the American willing to testify that he used performance-enhancing drugs between 1999 and 2005, according to a letter posted online by the Washington Post.
When contacted by Reuters, the USADA was not available for comment.
International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid told Reuters there would be “no comment” from them on the matter.
All riders mentioned by De Telegraaf were team mates of Armstrong, who never rode for Garmin but raced for Motorola, Cofidis, Discovery Channel, US Postal, Astana and RadioShack.
Vaughters rode with Armstrong at US Postal before retiring and setting up the Slipstream Sports team with an emphasis on taking a strong stance against doping in the sport.
On Wednesday, the team fired Danish rider Alex Rasmussen, who was banned for 18 months for violating the anti-doping ’whereabouts’ rule.