Armstrong still has backers on tour despite USADA report on doping

CBSSports.com wire reports
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Armstrong has been formally stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he won. (AP)  
Armstrong has been formally stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he won. (AP)  

BEIJING -- Lance Armstrong still has some support among riders in elite cycling despite a damning report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that detailed testimony from 26 witnesses, including 11 former teammates.

Samuel Sanchez, the 2008 Olympic road race champion, said "until the contrary is proved, he remains innocent."

"Lance has overcome many controls and even until today he has never been found positive in any of them," the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider said in Spanish in a television interview with The Associated Press before Thursday's third stage of the Tour of Beijing.

"So about all the accusations that have been poured against him, we have to see what is the goal of all of them, whether it is an economic motive or they want to harm his image."

"We still need to wait to see what's the final decision taken by the UCI (cycling's governing body), and see what it rules," he added. "The UCI has said all the time that it works on today's cycling and not in the cycling of the past."

USADA released about 200 pages filled with vivid details of accusations, portraying Armstrong as a man who spared no expense - financially, emotionally or physically - to win the seven Tour de France titles that the anti-doping agency has ordered to be taken away.

The head of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Doug Ulman, lauded Armstrong's work as a cancer fighter. BMC rider Stephen Cummings, a former Olympic track cycling silver medalist, also agreed with that sentiment. He said Armstrong deserved some kind of recognition for winning the Tour de France seven times after recovering from cancer.

"Oh, look, it is easy to say and point your finger on all the bad things, but you could look at the good things he has done as well," Cummings said in Beijing. "So he has done a lot good things, like his cancer charity."

Sky Procycling's Alex Dowsett, a 23-year-old British rider in his second year on the tour, said Armstrong is "still a legend of the sport" and he preferred to focus on cycling in the new era.

"All I know is that we all are racing clean," he said. "So it was a different sport back then."

Orica GreenEDGE rider Leigh Howard thought the sport needed to get past the Armstrong case.

"It's been going on for a long time now," he said. "I think it is good when the case is finally finished, which I think is already finished anyway. I think everyone should move on with it."

The UCI confirmed receiving the report from USADA and said it would respond to it soon, "not to delay matters any longer than necessary." It has 21 days to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

UCI chief Pat McQuaid was en route to Beijing and did not respond to calls from the AP. He was to arrive Friday morning in the Chinese capital, where he can expect to face questions regarding the extensive evidence in the USADA report.

The agency accused Armstrong of depending on performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his victories and expected his teammates to do the same. Among the 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong are George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said the cyclists were part of the "most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."

Armstrong did not fight the USADA charges but insists he never cheated.

The report also went to the World Anti-Doping Agency, which has the right to appeal but so far has supported USADA's position in the Armstrong case.

"We would like to commend USADA for having the courage and the resolve to keep focused in working on this difficult case for the sake of clean athletes and the integrity of sport," WADA President John Fahey said. He did not respond to messages seeking further comment.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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