By JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong is facing more doping allegations just a few months after he thought he had finally put them to rest.
Although federal investigators in February closed a two-year investigation without bringing criminal charges, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has filed new doping charges that could strip the seven-time Tour de France winner of his victories in cycling's premier race.
Armstrong insists he is innocent.
"I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one," Armstrong said in a statement. "Any fair consideration of these allegations has and will continue to vindicate me."
The move by USADA immediately bans him from competing in triathlons, which he turned to after he retired from cycling last year.
Armstrong has been dogged by doping allegations since his first Tour victory in 1999, but had hoped his fight to be viewed as a clean champion was finally won after federal prosecutors closed their probe. Armstrong has said the investigation took a heavy emotional toll and he was relieved when it ended.
But USADA officials insisted they would continue to pursue their investigation into Armstrong and his former teams and doctors, and notified him of the charges in a 15-page letter on Tuesday. Unlike federal prosecutors, USADA isn't burdened by proving a crime occurred, just that there was use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In its letter, USADA said its investigation included evidence dating to 1996. It also included the new charge that Armstrong blood samples taken in 2009 and 2010 are "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions." Armstrong came out of his first retirement to race in the Tour de France those two years.
Armstrong, who was in France training for a triathlon, dismissed the latest allegations as "baseless" and "motivated by spite."
Even though he last won the Tour seven years ago, the 40-year-old Armstrong remains a popular — if polarizing — figure, partly because of his charity work for cancer patients.
Since he first retired after the 2005 Tour de France, Armstrong has often said he was tired of fighting doping claims only to vigorously battle to clear his name. He spent millions assembling a legal team during the criminal investigation.
In the months since the criminal probe ended, Armstrong has said he would not worry about a USADA investigation and that he's done "wasting" time answering doping questions.
Anti-doping officials, however, kept pressing their case and finally laid out the charges in the letter.
The USADA letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, accuses Armstrong of using and promoting the use of the blood booster EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, human growth hormone and anti-inflammatory steroids. The letter doesn't cite specific examples, but says the charges are based on evidence gathered in an investigation of Armstrong's teams, including interviews with witnesses who aren't named.
USADA's letter said the agency was also bringing doping charges against Johan Bruyneel, manager of Armstrong's winning teams; team doctors Pedro Celaya and Luis Garcia del Moral; team trainer Pepe Marti, and consulting doctor Michele Ferrari.
No one answered the phone at the home of Ferrari in Ferrara, northern Italy. Ferrari's lawyer, Dario Bolognesi, said he was unaware of the USADA action and had no immediate comment.
Garcia del Moral's office told The AP in Spain that he would not comment on the charges. Celaya, who is currently on Radioshack's medical staff, was unreachable for comment.
Marti also has connections to another high-profile doping case. He was Alberto Contador's team coach through 2010, when the Spaniard was found to have used performance enhancing substances to win the Tour de France for a third time.