Tour de France: Denials all round in Rouen as Lance Armstrong doping case engulfs Garmin team
A "no comment" or simply no words at all from a handful of g rim-faced riders and team management, with quote-hungry reporters and TV cameras massing round team buses and cars, and team staff staring blankly across a flimsily fenced-off area at the press pack beyond: this is usually the scene when a Tour de France drugs scandal breaks. And so it was again yesterday morning in Rouen, as the latest round of doping suspicions over the seven-times Tour winner Lance Armstrong surfaced.
The drama mounted when, faced by a sea of reporters at the stage start, the Garmin-Sharp director Jonathan Vaughters denied any of his team's riders would face six-month bans by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as part of its investigation into Armstrong.
Vaughters declared that his team's core values included racing 100 per cent clean, and answering any questions put by anti-doping authorities "openly and honestly".
When asked if he had testified against Armstrong, who never rode for the Garmin team, Vaughters refused to comment.
Vaughters was in the eye of the storm as he had figured in a report in the Dutch daily De Telegraaf, which claimed yesterday that USADA had handed out suspended bans to Vaughters and four other former Armstrong team-mates. The four are riding this year's Tour for the Garmin, BMC and Omega Pharma teams, while Vaughters is now Garmin director.
The four others named by the Dutch paper refused to comment on the case at all, with the two most communicative of the riders – the long-time Armstrong team-mate George Hincapie, and the 2007 Tour and 2008 Vuelta podium finisher Levi Leipheimer – stating the obvious, that they were simply here to race.
"I've always tried to do the right thing for my sport but I've got other things on my mind here," a Hincapie statement read.
"We've not received any information from any authority, we can't comment on newspaper reports," was the terse contribution of Hincapie's BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz – who directed Armstrong – before retiring swiftly back to the team bus.
Tour officials were equally tight-lipped, with the race's general director, Christian Prudhomme, asking a reporter from the French sports daily L'Equipe – presumably rhetorically – how they expected him to react "about nothing at all". Similarly, Pat McQuaid, president of the sport's governing body, the UCI, refused to comment, while USADA were unreachable.
Armstrong has always flatly denied doping and although a two-year federal investigation was dropped in February, charges have now been filed by USADA, accusing him and four members of his back-up staff, including his long-standing team manager Johan Bruyneel, of systematic drug use during his strongest years.
If found guilty by USADA, Armstrong could lose all seven of his Tour de France titles. Dogged by accusations since his first Tour victory in 1999, Armstrong has been testified against – according to a letter published by the Washington Post – by at least 10 riders or former riders. Two years ago, Floyd Landis, the 2006 winner later stripped of his title after testing positive, accused Armstrong of systematic drug use, claims later echoed by another former team-mate, Tyler Hamilton.
Even so, and just as in 1998 at the height of the Festina scandals, most of the spectators yesterday seemed utterly indifferent, packing the Rouen pavements to see the riders off and then jostling for position at the finish in rainsoaked Saint-Quentin. For all the scandals, then, it appears France still loves the Tour de France.
Latest in Sport
Chelsea vs Tottenham combined XI: Hugo Lloris or Thibaut Courtois? Willian or Christian Eriksen? Who makes the final cut?
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Eden Hazard exclusive interview - All is rosy in the garden of Eden
Arsenal vs Monaco: Theo Walcott 'involved in spat' with fans after Champions League defeat
Carl Frampton vs Chris Avalos; Tyson Fury vs Christian Hammer; Dmitry Chudinov vs Chris Eubank Jr - boxing on TV this weekend
Robbie Savage avoids driving ban - because he would get 'accosted' too much if he had to use public transport
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...
£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...
£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...