October 10 - Lance Armstrong's United States Postal Service (USPS) Pro Cycling team "ran the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen", according to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Travis T Tygart, USADA's chief executive, said in a statement today that there was "conclusive and undeniable proof" of a team-run doping conspiracy after hearing the evidence of eleven former teammates of the man who won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times – but who has now forfeited all seven titles after refusing to contest doping charges.
USADA are now sending their "reasoned decision" in the Armstrong (pictured top) case to the International Cycling Union (UCI), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the World Triathlon Corporation.
This will be the explanation for their decision to strip the retired cyclist, who now competes in triathlons, of his seven Tour de France titles and hand him a lifetime ban.
The evidence, Tygart said, was "overwhelming" and "in excess over 1,000 pages".
He said it contains "direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding".
Tygart also claimed the team's doping conspiracy "was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices".
Twenty-six people in total, he said, gave sworn testimony.
Among the former teammates who did so were Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title in 2010 following doping charges.
The other teammates who gave evidence against Armstrong were Frankie Andreu, Michael Barry, Tom Danielson, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Stephen Swart, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters and David Zabriskie.
Tygart praised those riders involved in the "doping conspiracy" for having "tremendous courage" to come forward and "stop perpetuating the sporting fraud".
He said: "I have personally talked with and heard these athletes' stories and firmly believe that, collectively, these athletes, if forgiven and embraced, have a chance to leave a legacy far greater for the good of the sport than anything they ever did on a bike.
"Lance Armstrong was given the same opportunity to come forward and be part of the solution.
"He rejected it.
"Instead he exercised his legal right not to contest the evidence and knowingly accepted the imposition of a ban from recognised competition for life and disqualification of his competitive results from 1998 forward."
The USADA chief also called on the UCI to "act on its own recent suggestion for a meaningful Truth and Reconciliation programme".
He said such a scheme might be the only way the sport can "unshackle itself from the past".
Tygart added: "We have heard from many athletes who have faced an unfair dilemma – dope, or don't compete at the highest levels of the sport.
"Many of them abandoned their dreams and left sport because they refused to endanger their health and participate in doping.
"That is a tragic choice no athlete should have to make."
USADA confirmed two other members of the USPS team, Dr Michele Ferrari and Dr Garcia del Moral, also received lifetime bans for their part in the doping conspiracy.
Three further members, team director Johan Bruyneel, a team doctor Dr Pedro Celaya and team trainer Jose Marti have chosen to contest the charges and take their cases to arbitration.
Armstrong has repeatedly denied accusations of doping.
But in August in announced he would not fight the doping charges filed against him by USADA, saying in a statement he was "finished with this nonsense" and insisting he was innocent.
USADA will publish all their evidence on their website, www.usada.org.
Two of the riders who came forward, Barry and Hincapie, were quick to release mea culpa statements of their own.
Barry, who since 2010 has ridden for Team Sky and will retire at the end of the 2012 season, said on his website, www.michaelbarry.ca: "After being encouraged by the team, pressured to perform and pushed to my physical limits I crossed a line I promised myself and others I would not: I doped.
"It was a decision I deeply regret.
"It caused me sleepless nights, took the fun out of cycling and racing, and tainted the success I achieved at the time.
"This was not how I wanted to live or race."
The 36-year-old Canadian, who rode for the USPS team from 2002 to 2006, said he never doped again from the summer of 2006 and, although he did not confess to his past, became an advocate of clean cycling and the need for change.
He added: "I apologise to those I deceived.
"I will accept my suspension and any other consequences. I will work hard to regain people's trust."
American Hincapie, 39, was at the USPS team for 10 years from 1997 to 2007 and was a close friend of Armstrong's.
He retired in August.
"Because of my love for the sport, the contributions I feel I have made to it, and the amount the sport of cycling has given to me over the years, it is extremely difficult today to acknowledge that during a part of my career I used banned substances," he said on www.georgehincapie.com.
"Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them.
"I deeply regret that choice and sincerely apologise to my family, teammates and fans.
"Quietly, and in the way I know best, I have been trying to rectify that decision."
Hincapie said he had competed clean for the past six years and during that time had worked hard to rid the sport of drugs.
"During this time, I continued to successfully compete at the highest level of cycling while mentoring young professional riders on the right choices to make to ensure that the culture of cycling had changed," he said.
"About two years ago, I was approached by US Federal investigators, and more recently by USADA, and asked to tell of my personal experience in these matters.
"I would have been much more comfortable talking only about myself, but understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything I knew.
"So that is what I did."
He added: "As I begin the next chapter in my cycling life, I look forward to playing a significant part in developing, encouraging and helping young riders to compete and win with the best in the world."
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