LOS ANGELES, USA (AFP) — Lance Armstrong, increasingly isolated in the face of a devastating doping report, is now hoping Livestrong, the cancer charity he founded, will weather the scandal.
"Lance's direction was 'Stay focused on your work. Do not be distracted.' And that's exactly what we've done," Katherine McLane, vice-president of communications for Livestrong, told AFP yesterday.
"Has it been tough? Absolutely. But have we kept ourselves focused, kept ourselves devoted to serving people? Absolutely," she added, a day after Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the organisation.
Commercial sponsors, including Nike and brewer Anheuser-Busch, have severed ties with Armstrong, who is still expected to speak today at a gala marking Livestrong's 15th anniversary.
Hein Verbruggen, the Dutch veteran who was president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) when Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times between 1999 and 2005, also distanced himself from the American.
Verbruggen and the UCI have been under pressure to respond to the failure to detect Armstrong's activities, which were detailed in a US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) dossier last week that sent shockwaves through sport.
It has been suggested 71-year-old Verbruggen saw Armstrong, who returned to cycling after battling life-threatening cancer, as a standard-bearer to revive a sport tarnished by a succession of doping scandals in the 1990s.
But he said a report in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf "unjustly states that despite USADA's dossier I still insist there is no proof." He also rejected claims that he took a bribe to cover up a positive test by Armstrong in 1999.
The claims, he said, were "not worth an official statement", noting that Armstrong, whom the USADA last week said was at the heart of the biggest doping programme in sports history, had never tested positive by a drug laboratory.
"Therefore it could not have been hidden," he added in a UCI statement.
Verbruggen's statement emerged as Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the USADA 202-page dossier on Armstrong and more than 1,000 pages of supplementary testimony had opened a "Pandora's box" of shady dealings.
Italian investigators are probing a doctor said to have overseen Armstrong's use of banned substances, Michele Ferrari, who is said to have offered an "all inclusive package" to top athletes on how to cheat the dope testers.