Armstrong report hangs over Tour
SAINT-QUENTIN, France – The Tour de France is shadowed again by Lance Armstrong and doping.
The subject returned with a vengeance to cycling’s greatest race Thursday, and caught in the turmoil were four riders and a team manager who years ago helped Armstrong on the way to his seven Tour titles.
All this on a day when Germany’s Andre Greipel won the fifth stage — his second consecutive — in a sprint after the 122-mile trek from Rouen to Saint-Quentin, north of Paris. Fabian Cancellara kept the overall lead for a sixth straight day.
The ride got off to a bumpy start after a Dutch newspaper reported that former Armstrong teammates cut a deal with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for their testimony in a doping case against him.
Daily De Telegraaf, citing “well-informed sources,” said USADA had given six-month bans to Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde.
Later Thursday, The New York Times reported online that four of them — all but Vaughters — would testify in the agency’s case.
Vaughters, now a team director at the Garmin-Sharp team, called the Dutch report “completely untrue.”
Hincapie said his thoughts were with Armstrong.
“I’m sad he is going through this,” said Hincapie, the only rider to have been on all of Armstrong’s Tour-winning teams. “He’s done so many things for the sport. His accomplishments are incredible.”
USADA refused to confirm the report. Armstrong — who has unfailingly denied doping during his career — reiterated his charge that USADA was looking for a “vendetta” against him.
Garmin, a team that has been vocal in its efforts to crack down on doping, finds itself in the center of the controversy, with three of the five people cited.
The team got another dose of bad news when sprinter Tyler Farrar of Wenatchee had his fourth crash already this Tour, tumbling to the ground as the frenzied pack accelerated with just over two miles to go.
Farrar straggled across the line later alone, blood streaming down his right elbow and knee. He then stormed into the bus of the Argos-Shimano team, looking for its sprinter, Tom Veelers.
Farrar angrily shouted, “You don’t do that to someone!”
The top standings didn’t change: Bradley Wiggins, the leader of Team Sky, was second overall, seven seconds behind Cancellara. Cadel Evans of Australia, the defending champion, was 17 seconds back, in seventh place.