May 31, 2006

Armstrong cleared of 1999 doping: lawyers

AMSTERDAM -- Independent investigators have cleared seven times champion Lance Armstrong of doping during the 1999 Tour de France and found the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) behaved in ways "completely inconsistent" with testing rules.

Dutch law firm Scholten, assigned by the International Cycling Union (UCI) to investigate newspaper allegations, referred in a statement on Wednesday to "misconduct" by WADA and the French national doping lab LNDD.

American Armstrong, who first won the Tour that year and retired after his record seventh consecutive victory last July, has always denied taking banned substances.

French sports daily L'Equipe reported last August that it had access to laboratory documents and six of Armstrong's urine samples collected on the 1999 Tour showed "indisputable" traces of the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO).

Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman, a former director of the Netherlands national anti-doping agency, was appointed by the UCI last October to investigate the allegations.

In February the UCI revealed its chief medical officer Mario Zorzoli had provided the newspaper with the documents.

Zorzoli said he must have provided all the forms but only so the journalist could write an article proving Armstrong never asked to use drugs after successfully overcoming testicular cancer.

Zorzoli was suspended for a month but reinstated in March.

The UCI said it deplored the release of the findings before it had had a chance to study them.

"The UCI strongly deplores the behavior of Mr Vrijman, who expressed himself in a premature manner, contravening the agreements that all parties implicated would be informed before any public comment was made on contents of the report," the International Cycling Union said in a statement.

The UCI added it was still waiting to receive the final report and "underlines its deep displeasure with regards to the regrettable development of this case."

The UCI said it would publish the document after studying its findings.

Armstrong is expected to make a statement shortly.