The former head of world cycling encouraged Lance Armstrong to cover up his doping, the disgraced cyclist alleges in an interview with Britain's Daily Mail.
One of the many insidious tails to come out in the Armstrong doping scandal is a story from 1999, before he'd won a single Tour de France. During that '99 Tour, Armstrong allegedly tested positive for a banned substance corticosteroid. At the time, cycling was reeling in the wake of the Festina affair, a incident in which team officials were caught trying to transport performance enhancing drugs across the French border during the '98 Tour.
So when Armstrong tested positive in '99, he alleges Hein Verbuggen, then president of the International Cycling Union, instigated a cover up.
"The sport was on life support, and Hein just said, 'This is just a real problem. This is the knockout punch for our sport,' " Armstrong told the Daily Mail. "It was the year after Festina. And he just said, 'We gotta come up with something.' And so we just backdated the prescription."
Vergubben vehemently denies involvement in a cover up. In a February letter he wrote: "I have been frequently accused that, in my UCI presidency, my federation would not have been too serious in its anti-doping policy and that – in particular the Lance Armstrong case – the UCI and myself have been involved in covering up positive tests.
"Cover-ups never took place. Not only would this never have been allowed, but there simply was nothing to cover up. Armstrong, nor his teammates, never tested positive."
In the interview, which appears to be part of Armstrong's new tour to repair his tarnished image, he claims that "if what I did to win the Tour from '99 to '05 was this much, which it was" (putting his thumb and index finger about two inches apart) "'96 was this much" (holding his arms two feet apart).