Below is an open letter from Michael Ashenden to Phil Liggett, in response to Liggett's appearance on Ballz Visual Radio on August 27.
August 31, 2012
Phil Liggett, MBE
I found the interview you gave Ballz Visual Radio on 27 August 2012 to be an appalling commentary on disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong’s decision to accept the charges brought against him by USADA.
You repeatedly posed the question “Why is USADA doing this?” Not once but numerous times, as if it were some elusive mystery. The answer is simple – you could have seen this if you had read USADA’s charging letter. USADA did this because they had obtained evidence that Armstrong had used prohibited substances, had been in possession of prohibited substances, had trafficked drugs including EPO and testosterone, and had administered such drugs to others. USADA also have evidence that Armstrong assisted, encouraged, aided, abetted and covered up those antidoping rule violations.
In fact the evidence didn’t end there. USADA also discovered evidence that Johann Bruyneel (I’m sure you recognise that name, he manages the RadioShack team you spoke of during this year’s Tour de France) possessed and trafficked drugs, as well as assisted one or more anti-doping rule violations. Actually the evidence spread wider, and also implicated Pedro Celaya who is the RadioShack team doctor. Also Luis del Moral (a sports doctor working in Spain at present) and Pepi Marti who has been a team trainer associated with Armstrong’s teams for the past decade or so. And let’s not forget Michele Ferrari, who currently provides training information to cyclists. I think you’ll recognise his name?
Can you see a common thread yet, Phil? Can you see that each and every one of those individuals played a current role in sport in 2012? Isn’t that what you’d want our antidoping agencies to be doing – revealing and removing drug cheats from sport?
You failed to mention that Armstrong was still competing as a triathlete in 2012 (I know that you recognise the term ‘triathlon’ because its a sport you have commentated for in the past). But to answer your question, USADA is not doing this just because of Lance Armstrong. Instead, its about a conspiracy. You can find that word often in USADA’s charging letter. A conspiracy that has infested cycling for over a decade. A conspiracy whose filthy tentacles still strangle sport today. A conspiracy that needs to be excised like a cancerous growth.
Which brings me to another point. You said during the interview that you’ve seen people fight back and beat cancer “because of the way that Armstrong delivers his words”. You intimate that without Armstrong’s words they would have perished. Shame on you, Phil. That is a despicable, wretched suggestion which infers that those poor souls who do succumb to cancer somehow lacked the will to fight it. I am appalled that you could be so ignorant and heartless.
However that was not the only realm in which you displayed ignorance. You questioned USADA’s authority to act as if it was still a live question. If you are still a little foggy I would urge you re-read the decision of Judge Sam Sparks, who Armstrong asked to clarify that point. Question asked, question answered.
I also found it disconcerting that you did not know the correct name of WADA (World Anti Doping Agency, not the “World Anti Drugs Agency” as you referred to them). They have a wonderful website Phil, where you could brush up on the World Anti Doping Code under whose rules the conspirators were charged. Look carefully at Article 2.2. It describes how the ‘Use of a Prohibited Substance’ can be established by any reliable means, including witness statements. Witness statements such as those evidently given by around ten of Armstrong’s team mates and team members.
Let me just clarify a legal point for you, Phil. When you confided to the interviewer that your chum from Colorado had told you that he had been offered money to say that Armstrong doped, that is called ‘hearsay’. Its called hearsay because you didn’t hear or see what happened, your friend did. Courts don’t like hearsay evidence Phil – in fact even a newbie defense lawyer would have hearsay booted out of court in an instant. In contrast, USADA pointed out that their evidence was derived from eyewitness statements containing firsthand knowledge of the conduct. That kind of evidence is legally robust and has indeed, as you colloquially put it, been used to “hang a man for murder”. Armstrong chose not to oppose that eyewitness evidence, and I’m darned sure he could have gotten a half decent lawyer to sift out the hearsay from the eyewitness evidence…
Interestingly, Armstrong suggests that his teammates know who won those seven Tours. Well, if they could remember that, wouldn’t they also be coherent enough to know what they had seen firsthand during those races? Don’t you think the mental image of the race leader with a plastic tube hanging out of his arm and a bag of blood hanging above his head from a picture hook on the hotel room wall would stick in your memory?
Your muddled interpretation of out of competition testing being a foolproof method to catch cheats is so flimsy and threadbare as to hardly warrant comment. But the same line is being spun so relentlessly by Armstrong sympathizers that I feel compelled to address it. I also worry that you will be skeptical of what I say, so here is what I propose. At the end of your interview, you got a plug in for an upcoming conference that you will attend with your fellow Briton, professional road cyclist David Millar whom you referred to as “one of the biggest bike riders we’ve currently got” in cycling. While you’re having a tea break, ask him two questions. “Did you ever use EPO?”. “Did you ever get caught during out of competition tests?”. Just in case you don’t get a chance to chat with David, the answers are “Yes” and “No”. You’d have to believe in the tooth fairy to suggest it is not possible for a professional road cyclist to use EPO without being caught.
Phil I work full-time as an antidoping researcher. I specialize in the field of blood doping, so a lot of my time has been spent trying to find a test that can detect when athletes use blood transfusion. I’ve been half successful – we can now catch athletes if they transfuse someone else’s blood. However, during Armstrong’s era there was no test able to catch them if they gamed the system by reinfusing their own blood (‘autologous transfusion’). At the risk of stating the obvious, Armstrong could have bloated himself with a bag of stored blood every day of the week, and been tested 300 times per day, and he would still have been negative.
Which brings me to yet another point, Phil. You breathlessly proclaimed that Armstrong had passed more than 500 tests and was negative each time. I’ve worked in antidoping for a decade, but I’m not aware of anything that we can find in a urine sample that shows us that an athlete was in possession of a prohibited substance. I don’t know of any marker that indicates whether or not an athlete trafficked drugs. Similarly, I can assure you that labs cannot detect when an athlete has encouraged a teammate to take drugs. All of those are antidoping offenses under the WADA Code (review Article 2.2 if you need a refresher). They are also the essence of what Armstrong and his conspirators were charged with. Not to labor the point, but where does your 500-test-defense fit into that picture?
Phil I was shocked that you think that all that matters is that Armstrong “brought a lot of kids and a lot of adults into the sport”. Is that truly what you believe? Popularize the sport at all costs? A hallway pass for cheats, provided that they sell copy and attract the fans? Your statement does a grave disservice to your place in the British Cycling Hall of Fame.
You also made much of what you called a “minefield” concerning who the stripped results should be awarded to. You seemed to infer that unless we can sort that rot out, we should do nothing. Really? Don’t uproot a conspiracy of half a dozen individuals still infesting our sport today, simply because you can’t make up your mind who should win the races they fraudulently snatched from clean athletes? Beside your point being completely irrelevant, based on the knowledge you have demonstrated about how the antidoping system works, I think you’ve disqualified yourself from offering an opinion on that one!
Finally, you asked what happened to the statute of limitations of eight years. Well, if you have a look at USADA’s charge letter they explained that one too. First, USADA had substantial evidence of doping within the past eight years. Second, evidence from outside eight years can be used to corroborate more recent evidence. And if you continue reading that paragraph, you’ll also satisfy yourself that results outside the limitation can be disqualified where there was false statements or fraudulent concealment. Cue “conspiracy”, Phil.
Michael Ashenden, PhD
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