Spanish court probing network linked to Lance Armstrong's doping
Lance Armstrong crosses the finish line during the 15th stage of the Tour de France cycling race in Verbier, Switzerland, July 19, 2009. (AP / Laurent Rebours)
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2013 1:41PM EDT
MADRID, Spain -- Spain's judiciary is investigating a support network that allegedly helped Lance Armstrong with doping while he trained in the country from 1999-2005, the head of the nation's anti-doping agency said Tuesday.
Ana Munoz, who heads Spain's Sports Health Protection Agency, which includes its anti-doping activities, said that in May 2012 she received a request for help from the USADA, which was then discreetly probing Armstrong on suspicion that he and his entourage had been involved in doping to win races.
As a result of the request, Munoz said a careful investigation began to compile information about Armstrong's training periods in the Spanish regions of Gerona in the northeast, Alicante in the east and on the Canary Island of Tenerife.
Munoz said testimonies and other evidence were gathered as part of the investigation that she then presented to Spain's State Prosecutor.
She said the evidence was currently being used by a Spanish court to investigate Armstrong and those who may have helped him to win seven Tour de France titles. She declined to specify which court was involved. Armstrong has since been stripped of those titles.
Apart from the American rider and Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's mentor identified by USADA and his ex-teammates as one of the organizers of systematic doping on their U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel squads, two Spanish doctors were also under investigation, Munoz said.
She added that doctors Luis Garcia del Moral and Pedro Celaya were being probed on suspicion that they helped Armstrong dope while training on Spanish soil.
Munoz said that Spain's image had been tarnished by Armstrong's admission that he doped while training in the country, also by what she described as a lenient sentence handed down in the Operation Puerto trial.
That case ended with the doctor at the centre of a blood-doping ring, Eufemiano Fuentes, being declared guilty of endangering the health of cyclists under his medical care, and being given a one-year suspended jail sentence.
Munoz repeated that her agency was appealing the trial judge's decision to destroy blood bags that had been part of the evidence in the Puerto trial.
"I want it to be clearly understood that my agency wants to know the names of all of those involved in blood doping in that case," Munoz told The Associated Press.
Spain passed a new anti-doping law on June 13 that it hopes will clean up the country's dented image after the Puerto case, and will help boost Madrid's bid for the 2020 Olympics.
The law approved by parliament includes the extension of doping tests for athletes to night hours (11 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and costly fines for those who deal in doping substances.
Munoz said the message that her agency wants to get across to those engaged in sport -- or considering getting involved -- is that doping is harmful.
Munoz said she was appalled at last weekend's admission by Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour de France winner, that he received blood-doping from Fuentes in order to "compete on equal terms" with other cheats.
"We should encourage those engaged in sporting activities to complain to the legal authorities when confronted with a cheat, just like companies do when up against illegal practices in their line of business," Munoz said.