Federal agents crucial in snaring Armstrong: UCI

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As world cycling chiefs look to a future after Lance Armstrong, one man was singled out for special praise by the International Cycling Union (UCI): special agent Jeff Novitzky.

Novitzky was already known in the world of sport for an investigation into American sprint queen Marion Jones, who despite regular testing during a glittering Olympic gold-winning career never once tested positive.

Novitzky's evidence on the athletics star would unveil an elaborate doping programme run by Victor Conte's BALCO laboratory, and it proved likewise with Armstrong.

When Novitzky was asked to invetigate claims that Armstrong's US Postal team had used millions of dollars of public money on a systematic doping programme, he went at it with the same gusto.

He racked up thousands of air miles interviewing dozens of people known to have frequented Armstrong, who on Monday was sensationally stripped of all his results since 1998 by the UCI.

Despite his findings not being used in the federal court case against the American, who has always vehemently denied doping, the evidence gleaned did not go to waste.

It found its way to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), whose president Travis Tygart launched a similar, single-minded quest for the truth that would lead to the downfall of the world's most celebrated cyclist.

The USADA's recently-published, damning report said Armstrong helped orchestrate the most sophisticated doping programme in the history of sport.

The UCI ratified the USADA's findings Monday, agreeing that Armstrong should suffer the disgrace of losing all his results since 1998, including all seven of his Tour de France wins.

Although the USADA will take much of the credit, UCI president Pat McQuaid believes Novitzky and the threat of criminal proceedings against many of those who testified against Armstrong was key.

"We tested Armstrong over 200 times and he was always negative, we tested the other riders many times and they were negative. Not only the UCI, but also USADA," McQuaid told AFP.

"Bear in mind that this report has not emerged thanks to a UCI or USADA investigation. It's Jeff Novitzky, a federal investigator, who collected all that information for the file.

"It proves the use of having police involved in anti-doping investigation," the Irishman added.

Since Armstrong's last yellow jersey win in 2005, tests for banned drugs have improved significantly.

The UCI now also boasts the blood passport programme, which charts and compares blood samples from riders over time, pinpoints significant changes and targets the rider with specific testing in the event of suspect parameters.

Despite not being without its critics, it has snared many riders who did not test positive and is now considered a significant deterrent.

Such measures did not exist in Armstrong's heyday. In the end it took the threat of being perjured in court for many former associates of Armstrong to speak up about his and their own doping past.

"Remember, none of these guys, the witnesses, volunteered to come forward. They were subpoenaed by police and told to sit down and talk," said McQuaid.

On Friday the UCI will discuss possible changes in the sport aimed at eradicating even the temptation to cheat.

As McQuaid brushed off suggestions he should resign for the UCI's failure to expose Armstrong's cheating, which took place in his predecessor's (Hein Verbruggen) reign, he admitted it would not have broken down had the federal agents not been around.

"I am grateful to USADA for what they have achieved. But they haven't achieved any more than the UCI could have achieved on their own," he said.

"They needed the support of the federal agents to do it, and that's evident."

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