Created on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 Written by HAROLD HECKLE,Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Spain's judiciary is investigating a support network that allegedly helped Lance Armstrong with doping while he trained in the country from 1999 to 2005.
The head of the nation's anti-doping agency said Tuesday that in May 2012 she received a request for help from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The U.S. organization was then trying to find out if Armstrong and his entourage had been involved in doping.
Ana Munoz, who heads Spain's Sports Health Protection Agency, said that as a result of the request her group began to compile information about Armstrong while he was training in the Spanish regions of Gerona in the northeast, Alicante in the east and on the Canary Island of Tenerife.
Munoz said testimony and other evidence were gathered as part of the inquiry that she then presented to Spain's state prosecutor.
She said the evidence was being used by a Spanish court to investigate Armstrong and those who may have helped him 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 Armstrong mentor Johan Bruyneel, two Spanish doctors were also under investigation, Munoz said.
Bruyneel was identified by USADA and his ex-teammates as one of the organizers of systematic doping on the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel squads,
Munoz said that doctors Luis Garcia del Moral and Pedro Celaya were being investigated on suspicion they helped Armstrong use banned drugs while training in Spain.
She added that Spain's image had been tarnished by Armstrong's admission that he doped while training in the country and by what she called a lenient sentence handed down in the Operation Puerto trial.
That case ended with the doctor at the center of a blood-doping ring, Eufemiano Fuentes, convicted 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 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 her agency wants to get across is that doping is harmful. She 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 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.