How did Lance Armstrong escape drug use detection while winning a record-setting seven Tour de France titles?
He built a complex web of secret bank transactions, motorcycle-riding drug couriers, sophisticated scientific regimens and retaliation against teammates who challenged the code of silence, or "omerta," about doping, according to the case laid out by U.S. anti-doping officials on Wednesday.
Armstrong wasn't just a user of performance-enhancing drugs. He encouraged, solicited and pressured his teammates to follow suit, according to the U.S. Anti-Drug Agency's "reasoned decision" regarding Armstrong that totaled more than 1,000 pages of testimony and supporting documents.
The cancer survivor from Texas personally directed a doping program while riding for the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel Cycling teams from 1998 to 2005 when he retired with seven Tour victories, and then again during his return to the sport from 2009-2010.
Despite his denials and statements that he never failed a drug test, 11 of Armstrong's former teammates provided shocking new testimony about what, when and how he managed to use a smorgasbord of drugs without ever failing a test.
"It's an avalanche of evidence," said Neal Rogers, editor of VeloNews, a Boulder-based cycling website and magazine that has been following the Armstrong case for several years. "We all suspected it was coming. But there's so much evidence it's overwhelming."
USADA chief Travis Tygart said Wednesday that Armstrong and his former manager Johann Bruyneel "ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen." The agency released more than 1,000 pages of supporting documents to support its case.
Armstrong's attorneys have called the USADA investigation a "witch hunt" and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Armstrong, who raced over the weekend in a triathlon near Baltimore, didn't comment on the revelations.
But it's the testimony of his 11 former teammates that strike the biggest blows against the retired cycling champion:
*The revelation by then 23-year-old cyclist David Zabriskie, whose father died from drug addiction, that Armstrong, Bruyneel and their Italian doctor Michele Ferrari told Zabriskie that he would have to start a doping program if he wished to be part of the U.S. Postal team in 2003. Zabriskie told investigators he was worried about the health effects of taking drugs, and was so upset at the choice he was given by Armstrong that he cried alone in his hotel room that night. He ended up taking the substances.
*New testimony by Armstrong's closest friend and teammate, George Hincapie, who admitted for the first time doping during his seven years with Armstrong. Hincapie retired from cycling last month.
*Details about a "motoman" who delivered drugs to Armstrong and his teammates on a motorcycle that passed through European border checkpoints at night.
*A roadmap of how to take banned substances erythropoietin (EPO or "Poe"), testosterone ("oil" because it was mixed with olive oil), or human growth hormone without tripping limits set by cycling authorities.
*More than $1 million in payments from Armstrong to a disgraced Italian doctor, Michele Ferrari, from 1996 to 2006, sometimes in cash. Ferrari was convicted in 2004 of illegally providing drugs to Italian racers, and was continuing to give Armstrong advice through 2010, despite Armstrong's previous denials.
*How Armstrong's ex-wife Kristin Armstrong handed out cortisone pills to Armstrong and other USPS cyclists during one race in 1998.
*How Hincapie helped Armstrong avoid anti-doping testers that were waiting for him outside a team hotel during a French race in 1999. Armstrong dropped out of the race rather than face them.
*How Armstrong, Ferrari and Bruyneel learned the details of each racer's blood chemistry, so they could "micro-dose" with small amounts of performance-enhancing drugs without failing a test, or take injections of saline to dilute their blood.
*How Armstrong's team was re-injected with their own blood after a stage of the 2004 Tour de France, an operation that occurred inside the team bus at a French highway rest stop.
*Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton told investigators: "We also had another time-honored strategy for beating the testing -- we hid."
The testimony includes laboratory results from 2009 and 2010, when Armstrong made his comeback to professional cycling after taking three years off. An Australian blood-doping expert examined Armstrong's samples from the Tours during those years and said there was a "one in a million" chance that Armstrong raced clean.
While Armstrong's legal troubles are over -- a federal investigation into alleged fraud and misuse of funds was closed in February 2012 -- his financial woes may get worse as a result of the USADA probe.
Armstrong won millions of dollars in prize money over the years, and international sporting rules may force him to return it. In addition, SCA, a Texas firm, paid Armstrong a $7.5 million settlement in 2007 in a legal dispute over whether he doped during his Tour de France wins. That case could be reopened now that details about Armstrong's doping ring have been made public.
The USADA's investigation has been turned over to the Lausanne-based International Cycling Union, which will determine whether or not to strip Armstrong of his victories during his career. If it does, cycling officials face a difficult task. Nearly all of the second- and third-place podium finishers from 1999 to 2005 Tours have been either convicted or linked to drug scandals.
"Now it's cleaning up the mess," said VeloNews' Rogers. "We'll be reading about it for months."
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