Lance Armstrong accuses former UCI president Hein Verbruggen of helping him cheat during 1999 Tour de France

Disgraced cyclist accuses governing body of concealing his doping

Fourteen years on, the first of the smoking guns in the Lance Armstrong scandals – and one which could have cost him the 1999 Tour de France – began spitting bullets again after the Texan claimed former UCI President Hein Verbruggen had been involved in one of Armstrong’s cover-ups for drugs in the race.

Armstrong claimed in an interview with the Daily Mail that the former president of cycling’s governing body had turned a blind eye when Armstrong needed a backdated prescription for a saddle sore following a positive test for cortisone during the 1999 Tour, the first of seven the American won. The backdated prescription, allowing Armstrong to use a banned substance in small doses for medical purposes, cleared him of a doping positive.

Verbruggen did not answer calls from The Independent today, but insisted a few weeks ago that his behaviour as UCI President had been irreproachable.

“I have never acted inappropriately and my conscience is absolutely clean,” the Dutchman said in a letter sent to federations. “With the benefit of hindsight, however, I admit that I could have done some things differently, but I do not accept that my integrity is in doubt.”

At the time, the cortisone scandal marked a critical juncture in the saga of Armstrong in the Tour. For journalists like myself who had covered the Festina scandal in the 1998 Tour, suspicion of any outstanding sporting achievement was predictable. French newspaper L’Equipe showed that with their ambiguous headline after Armstrong took the lead: “On another planet”.

But as the race, led by Armstrong, headed out of the Alps and through the Pyrenees towards Paris, those doubts ebbed. Instead, there was widespread admiration at Armstrong’s comeback from cancer and what felt like the best thing, post-Festina, that could happen to cycling. However, the cortisone positive scandal, broken by Le Monde in the Tour’s third week marked the point where Armstrong’s irreparable breach with the media began to take shape.

Armstrong, not tainted by the events of the previous year because he was not on the race, became, as he put it, “confrontational and combative”, while the atmosphere in the Tour pressroom grew tense.

“Le Monde practices vulture journalism” Armstrong snapped bitterly as he stared balefully at journalists, before stating deliberately slowly, “I had a saddle sore.” “Are you calling me a doper or a liar?” he lashed out at one reporter.

Armstrong was finally cleared in 1999, and wore yellow into Paris for the next six years but the atmosphere was poisoned – for good.

In a recent interview with Cycling News, Armstrong explained that he did not feel he was singled out for favourable treatment over the cortisone incident and in his interview with The Mail, he expanded that claim by saying, “the real problem was, the sport was on life-support.”

Armstrong added: “Hein just said, ‘This is a real problem for me, this is the knockout punch for our sport, the year after Festina, so we’ve got to come up with something.’ So we backdated the prescription.”

With the considerable  benefit of hindsight, had the positive been confirmed, then Armstrong would have lost the Tour – and the sport could arguably be in a better place today.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea