Former Armstrong aide speaks as fallout from doping probe continues
MANCHESTER, England (CNN) — A former assistant to Lance Armstrong and his cycling team who first told her tale of the team’s alleged doping abuses nearly a decade ago says her goal has never been to bring the legendary cyclist down.
“I’m hoping and in the long term think it will be good for cycling and it will be good for the riders involved in cycling because I think that now more than ever, this is the opportunity for riders to have the choice to ride clean and stay clean if they choose to,” Emma O’Reilly said in an interview to be aired Friday on CNN.
O’Reilly worked with Armstrong for two years as a U.S. Postal Service team soigneur: part masseuse, part personal assistant. She is one of 26 witnesses who testified to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as part of its investigation into doping by Armstrong and other riders on the team.
In its report, released Wednesday, the organization tasked with keeping banned substances out of U.S. Olympic-sanctioned sports said it had uncovered “overwhelming evidence” that Armstrong had participated in and helped run the cycling team’s doping program.
The agency described it as “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
USADA sent the information to international cycling authorities, who are considering a request to strip Armstrong of his Tour de France titles and other wins.
On Wednesday, Armstrong lawyer Tim Herman dismissed the USADA report as a “one-sided hatchet job” and a “government-funded witch hunt” against the seven-time Tour de France winner, who has consistently denied doping accusations, including those made by O’Reilly. Armstrong decided to give up fighting the agency’s investigation in August, after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit he had filed seeking to stop the probe.
In fresh fallout, the International Olympic Committee said Friday that it also is examining the USADA’s evidence to decide whether it should consider taking away the bronze medal Armstrong won in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, according to spokesman Andrew Mitchell.
The RadioShack Nissan Trek cycling team announced Friday that it was parting ways with Johan Bruyneel, who managed the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery racing teams on which Armstrong raced.
In its report, the USADA said it “the overwhelming evidence in this case is that Johan Bruyneel was intimately involved in all significant details of the U.S. Postal team’s doping program.”
Bruyneel is among three former U.S. Postal Service and Discovery team officials who are fighting the charges.
The Radio Shack Nissan Trek team said the mutual decision “is necessary to make this decision since Johan Bruyneel can no longer direct the Team in an efficient and comfortable way.”
Bruyneel released a statement on his own website saying he was leaving to concentrate on his defense.
“I am surprised and extremely disappointed that USADA released information in the public domain relating to their pending case against me before I had been given any opportunity to review the evidence and provide my defence against it,” he wrote. “I still hope to be able to defend myself in a forum free from bias, although I now fear that USADA’s calculated action may have irreversibly prejudiced my case. It is a troubling facet of USADA’s approach to this case that it appears not to respect basic principles such as the right to be heard and the presumption of innocence.”
In her affidavit, released Wednesday, O’Reilly reiterated allegations she first made in 2003, in a book by two journalists on allegations against Armstrong.
She told the agency she engaged in clandestine trips to pick up and drop off what she assumed were doping products and said she was in the room when Armstrong and two other team officials came up with a plan to backdate a prescription for corticosteroids for a saddle sore to explain a positive steroid test result during the 1999 Tour de France.
“Now, Emma, you know enough to bring me down,” she says Armstrong told her after the meeting.
“The quote has got a bit dramatized,” she said. “History has shown that I didn’t have enough to bring him down, and I never wanted to bring him down. Never, ever wanted to bring Lance down.”
But she said in the interview, recorded Thursday, that while she never saw Armstrong use banned substances, she’s sure that he did.
“I’m in no doubt about that at all,” she said.
Doping was commonplace in cycling in the ’90s, she said, as integral to the sport as the bikes that bore riders up and down the French hillside.
“Yeah, this was the ’90s in cycling. That was the way, the normal way of doing things. So people who weren’t on the program and actually got results were like, ‘Wow! Good lord, how did that happen?’ “
She said she tried to distance herself from doping activities but felt some pressure to go along.
“You know, I always felt kind of guilty in a way that I wasn’t a proper soigneur by not getting involved in the medical program,” she said. “Because traditionally with soigneur, that’s been our role, to be involved with the medical program. And at the time, I probably stood out a bit because I didn’t, so I probably felt a bit like, yeah, I’ll do it.”
She said she first came across doping by the team in 1998, when she said a man gave her a package that he described as testosterone for team cyclist George Hincapie. The man, whose name is redacted from the affidavit, warned her not to travel to the United States with it, O’Reilly said.
Hincapie acknowledged using banned substances in his affidavit to the USADA and in a statement released the same day.
That same year, she says, Armstrong gave her a small plastic-wrapped package after a race in The Netherlands and asked her to dispose of it. O’Reilly said Armstrong told her it “contained some things he was uneasy traveling with and had not wanted to throw away at the team hotel.”
“From Lance’s explanation and the shape and feel of the package, I assumed that the package contained syringes that had been used by Lance during the Tour of the Netherlands,” she said in the affidavit. “I do not know what the syringes were used for; but, if they had been used to administer legitimate recovery products, then there is no reason they could not have been disposed of by a doctor or trainer at the team hotel.”
In 1999, she says, she agreed to a request from Armstrong to go to Spain to pick up a package she assumed involved doping supplies. She said she dropped them off with Armstrong in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant in France but never learned what the small white tablets were.
She also recounted buying makeup for Armstrong to conceal what she said he described as bruise from a syringe injection during a race.
In her affidavit, O’Reilly said she didn’t talk about what she had seen for years after leaving the team in 2000 “out of a sense of loyalty to the team and because I thought it was better to let sleeping dogs lie.”
O’Reilly first discussed the allegations in 2003, when she spoke out to journalist David Walsh for what would ultimately become a book by Walsh and Pierre Ballester on the allegations against Armstrong, “L.A. Confidentiel.”
“A lot of riders had died in the previous year, and I was convinced that their deaths were prematurely caused by the use of doping products,” she said in her affidavit. “I started to feel that my silence helped allow the doping culture to remain in place and thought that by refusing to speak up about my experience in cycling, I was no better than the directors, doctors and trainer who were actively running the doping programs.”