Cycling officials turned a blind eye to doping so Lance Armstrong could cheat his way to becoming the sport’s much needed superstar, according to a scathing report.
Although the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report found no evidence to sustain allegations Armstrong paid the International Cycling Union (UCI)to cover up a positive doping test, it revealed it acted favourably towards “cycling’s pop star”.
The UCI iscriticised in the study for its lethargic attitude towards Armstrong and other riders in an era “infested” with the use of the blood-boosting hormone EPO.
“UCI saw Lance Armstrong as the perfect choice to lead the sport’s renaissance,” the report said, adding: “The fact that he was American opened up a new continent for the sport.”
The investigation concluded: “Going after the cheaters was perceived as a witch-hunt that would be detrimental to the image of cycling.”
In 2012 Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs was exposed by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and he admitted he used blood transfusions during all seven of his Tour de France wins.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the 41-year-old said it was “not possible” to win the gruelling race so many times without doping. He subsequently had his Tour wins taken away and was banned from the sport for life by the USADA.
Although the year-long probe by the CIRC turned up no major revelations it suggested doping is still rife in top-level road cycling.
“One respected cycling professional felt that even today, 90 per cent of the peloton was doping,” the report said.
The UCI hopes publishing the findings will help turn the page on the doping era, prove it is serious about stamping out cheating, and instil confidence in the sport.
“I am grateful to CIRC for seeking the truth and allowing me to assist in that search,” Armstrong said, adding he was “deeply sorry for many things I have done”.
The cyclist was among 174 witnesses from across the sport interviewed by the panel chaired by Dick Marty, a Swiss politician who formerly investigated the CIA’s use of secret interrogation prisons in Europe.
“No rider came forward to voluntarily admit an anti-doping rule violation,” the report said.
Though Armstrong wants to reduce his lifetime ban imposed by the USADA the report did not include such a recommendation.