USADA’s Armstrong Report Paints Ugly Picture of Doctor with Tennis Connections
In the lead-up to the release of the USADA’s report laying out the doping charges against Lance Armstrong, it became known that a doctor also charged, Luis García del Moral, had worked with several tennis players, including World No. 8 Sara Errani.
Del Moral’s involvement with tennis was enough that the ITF issued a statement banning him from tennis events (but not from working with individual players).
Errani was quick to distance herself from the doctor when asked about working with him. However, at the time, the extent of Dr. del Moral’s involvement in the United States Postal Service team scandal was not known.
The USADA’s newly-released report, based on the testimony of Lance Armstrong’s teammates, paints a picture of Dr. del Moral as a mastermind behind one of the most intricate and successful doping programs in the history of sports.
One of USPS team manager Johan Bruyneel’s first acts in 1999 was to fire the current team doctor, Pedro Celaya, for being too conservative in dispensing doping products, at Armstrong’s request.
Bruyneel instead hired Dr. del Moral from the ONCE cycling team; a team infamous for its organized team doping.
Rider Christian Vande Velde described Dr. del Moral in his testimony. “[Dr. del Moral] would run into the room and you would quickly find a needle in your arm.”
The USADA report details Dr. del Moral’s shady practices, including working with a drug dealer Pepe Marti to dispense EPO and testosterone, and administering a blood doping program to Armstrong and many of his teammates for several years.
Dr. del Moral would bring the EPO to the riders either in their camper or hotel room. The EPO was already loaded in syringes upon delivery and the riders “would inject quickly and then put the syringes in a bag or Coke can and Dr. del Moral would get the syringe out of the camper as quickly as possible.”
In 2000, a test to detect synthetic EPO was introduced, and the USPS team needed a new plan:
John Bruyneel came to Tyler Hamilton following the 2000 Dauphiné Libéré won by Hamilton. Bruyneel explained the need for a new doping strategy. He said that five hundred cc’s of blood would be withdrawn from each of the riders to be reinfused the following month during the Tour de France.
The reinfused blood would boost the oxygen carrying capacity of Armstrong’s blood and that of his lieutenants and help their stamina and ability to recover, much as EPO had improved their endurance during the 1999 Tour. There was no test for blood transfusions, so this method of cheating would be undetectable.
The blood extraction was to be performed in Valencia, Spain, the hometown of Dr. del Moral and Pepe Marti. As a consequence, shortly after the Dauphiné, Armstrong, Hamilton and Livingston boarded a private jet in Nice to fly to Valencia.
Upon arriving in Valencia the riders were driven to a hotel where the blood extraction would be performed. Bruyneel, Michele Ferrari, Dr. del Moral and Pepe Marti were all present for the extraction process, while Ferrari and del Moral supervised the extraction process. The riders were told that Marti and del Moral would be responsible for reinfusing the blood during the Tour.
Before the Tour de France, Tyler Hamilton’s testimony described Dr. del Moral supervising the re-infusing of the blood:
The whole process took less than 30 minutes. Kevin Livingston and I received our transfusions in one room and Lance got his in an adjacent room with an adjoining door. During the transfusion Lance was visible from our room, Johan, Pepe and Dr. del Moral were all present and Dr. del Moral went back and forth between the rooms checking on the progress of the re-infusions. Each blood bag was placed on a hook for a picture frame or taped to the wall and we lay on the bed and shivered while the chilly blood re-entered our bodies.
The riders joked about whose body was absorbing the blood the fastest.
(Note: autologous blood doping as described above is still not detectable through doping tests given to tennis players.)
USPS rider Levi Leipheimer, who began using EPO without the team doctor’s knowledge, described Dr. del Moral’s reaction upon learning about his drug use:
A few minutes after confirming to Bruyneel that he had been using EPO Leipheimer got a phone call from Dr. del Moral instructing Leipheimer on how to use the drug in a way that would not be detectable. Leipheimer came away understanding “that Johan’s concern and Dr. del Moral’s concern was not necessarily that I had used EPO but that because they had not been told of my use, and I might not be doing it safely, that I could have had a positive test which could have led to problems for the team.”
Stepping back to tennis, it’s entirely possible that Errani and others saw Dr. del Moral for reasons unrelated to his illicit drug peddling.
But as the New York Times describes Armstrong’s other doctor, Michele Ferrari, “Ferrari is not generally regarded as the sort of doctor a rider would see for ordinary advice about his training.” The same philosophy may apply to del Moral.
Del Moral’s involvement in doping was not that of a passive participant. He was a driving force in not only doping Lance Armstrong and his teammates, but also pushing younger riders to dope to improve their performance. He developed and implemented detailed doping plans for riders for many years.
Learning the extent of del Moral’s involvement in the doping of cyclists should raise legitimate questions about how many tennis players consulted him, and to what extent.
The reason Lance Armstrong and his teammates got away with doping for so many years was because they employed the services of doctors who knew how to game the system.
Drs. Ferrari and del Moral knew how to beat the tests. They knew if EPO was injected into the veins, instead of subcutaneously, it would exit the system faster. They knew that there was no way to detect autologous blood doping with the current testing system.
With more and more tennis players traveling with full-time doctors, it would be incredibly naïve to believe that there are no tennis players gaming the system in the same way Lance Armstrong did.
We must always be cautious in implicating a player without proof. But ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.
The full USADA “Reasoned Decision” is available here: