Armstrong's ex-teammates get 6-month bans in doping scandal
Five of Lance Armstrong's teammates have accepted six-month doping suspensions, reduced because they provided evidence that helped the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency make the case to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles.
George Hincapie, Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie all would have received at least two-year sanctions had they not helped USADA with its case.
As part of their deals, all agreed not to participate in the Olympics this year. In June, all but Danielson announced they were withdrawing themselves from Olympic consideration but they did not give an explanation.
All the suspensions run through next February. Hincapie has said he's retiring at the end of 2012.
Also on Thursday, Leipheimer's team provisionally suspended the rider while it reviews the USADA report.
In other developments, the doctor who is a central figure in the doping scandal also is the target of an Italian criminal investigation that is nearing completion.
"It's not finished yet, but it's coming to a close," Padua prosecutor Benedetto Roberti told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Roberti has been leading a sweeping investigation of Dr. Michele Ferrari for several years. His comments came after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued its report detailing why it banned Armstrong for life from cycling and ordered all seven of his Tour de France titles erased.
Roberti called for an Interpol-like agency dedicated exclusively to international doping investigations like the one used for Armstrong.
A person with knowledge of the Padua inquiry said that it is "already officially closed. They're just going over it again." The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the case.
While Roberti would still not reveal details of his inquiry, he is believed to be investigating up to 70 people, including about 20 athletes, plus doctors, trainers and massage therapists.
"Armstrong is not under investigation. There are no Americans but there are several foreigners," the person with knowledge of the inquiry said. "There are no tennis players or athletes from other well-known sports."
Indictments could be the next step for those identified by the inquiry.
Doping is a crime in Italy, and Ferrari was already cleared on appeal in 2006 following an earlier conviction on criminal charges of distributing banned products to athletes. He remains barred for life by the Italian Cycling Federation under a 2002 ruling.
Armstrong has acknowledged that Ferrari was his trainer until 2004, and Ferrari's name is all over the USADA report. The anti-doping agency says Armstrong's professional relationship with Ferrari lasted for years after they publicly parted ways. In July, USADA banned Ferrari for life.
The report said the fact that "Armstrong received 'much more than 'occasional advice on training'" from Ferrari is reflected in payments made by Armstrong totaling more than $1 million dollars to a Swiss company controlled by the physician known as Health & Performance SA.
"The repeated efforts by Armstrong and his representatives to mischaracterize and minimize Armstrong's relationship with Ferrari are indicative of the true nature of that relationship," the report states.
Contacted by the AP on Thursday, Ferrari's wife said the physician was not home, and his lawyer also did not answer.
However, Ferrari issued a statement on his website in July contesting his USADA ban.
"I have NEVER witnessed any kind of doping practices taking place within the USPS team," Ferrari wrote. "I never went to races and at the team training camps I have attended, I was simply performing functional testing and making training programs.
"With regards to the alleged testimonies of riders, some were infamous protagonists of unfortunate events and documented lies," Ferrari continued. "The others probably are those 'semi-Champions' who chose to dope, chasing dreams of glory and money or just for envy, organizing it all themselves for their own sake."
Meanwhile, Roberti is hoping that the Armstrong case serves as an inspiration to instill more focus in the battle against doping. "There needs to be an organization on WADA's level that carries out investigations and exchanges and cross-checks information," Roberti said. "This case really just worked because of the personal wills of individuals, who did this voluntarily. We need something that always works, and doesn't just depend on personal will."