By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) accused seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong on Wednesday of cheating his way to the top of the cycling world with an elaborate doping operation - a claim his lawyer rejected as a "hatchet job."
The agency said evidence that the American cyclist used and distributed a range of performance-enhancing drugs included financial payments, emails, scientific data, laboratory test results, and testimony from 11 former teammates.
It said Armstrong - one of the world's most famous athletes who also is well known for his cancer-fighting charity work - and his team were at the center of the most sophisticated doping program ever seen in the sports world.
The 41-year-old Texan, a cancer survivor, has denied cheating. He has never failed a doping test.
Five of Armstrong's former teammates, who provided evidence in the investigation, issued separate statements on Wednesday admitting they used performance-enhancing drugs.
The agency - under pressure to reveal the details of its long-running investigation - on Wednesday released a summary of its findings against Armstrong, and planned to release the entirety of the report later in the day.
Sean Breen, one of Armstrong's lawyers, denounced the allegations. "We have seen the press release from USADA touting the upcoming release today of its 'reasoned decision,'" Breen said by email.
"(The) statement confirms the alleged 'reasoned decision' from USADA will be a one-sided hatchet job - a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories," he said.
Armstrong was banned for life by USADA in August after announcing he would not fight the agency's doping charges against him.
Breen said the agency was "ignoring the 500-600 tests Lance Armstrong passed, ignoring all exculpatory evidence, and trying to justify the millions of dollars USADA has spent pursuing one, single athlete for years."
'GOVERNMENT-FUNDED WITCH HUNT'
He added: "USADA has continued its government-funded witch hunt of only Mr. Armstrong, a retired cyclist, in violation of its own rules and due process, in spite of USADA's lack of jurisdiction, in blatant violation of the statute of limitations."
Armstrong has been dogged by accusations of cheating ever since he won the Tour de France a record seven times, between 1999 and 2005. He has always maintained his innocence.
The USADA report was sent to the International Cycling Union (UCI), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC).
The agency said the evidence showed prolonged use of a range of performance-enhancing drugs including erythropoietin (EPO), blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids, human growth hormone and masking agents.
"The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen," USADA said in a statement from chief executive Travis Tygart.
USADA is the national anti-doping organization for the Olympic movement in the United States. Its report was more than 1,000 pages long and contained the sworn testimony of 26 people.
Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for a positive doping test, and Tyler Hamilton, who was stripped of his 2004 Olympic gold medal after confessing to drug use, both previously pointed the finger at Armstrong.
On Wednesday, another five of Armstrong's former teammates also confessed to doping, including George Hincapie, who rode alongside Armstrong when he won each of his seven Tour de France titles and was one of his most loyal and trusted friends.
"I would have been much more comfortable talking only about myself, but understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything I knew. So that is what I did," he said in a statement.
USADA said the case against Armstrong and his team included eyewitness, documentary, first-hand, scientific, direct and circumstantial evidence as well as the testimony from the 11 former teammates.
Armstrong was accused of trafficking and encouraging other cyclists to use drugs, as well as conspiring with team manager Johan Bruyneel, doctor Pedro Celaya, doctor Luis del Moral, doctor Michele Ferrari and trainer Jose Pepe Marti.
Ferrari and Del Moral were also given lifetime bans for their role in the alleged doping scheme while Bruyneel, Celaya and Marti are contesting the charges.
"From day one, we always hoped this investigation would bring to a close this troubling chapter in cycling's history and we hope the sport will use this tragedy to prevent it from ever happening again," USADA said.
The International Cycling Union, which has the right to appeal USADA's rulings, said it was considering its position.
"The UCI will examine all information received in order to consider issues of appeal and recognition, jurisdiction and statute of limitation, within the term of appeal of 21 days, as required by the World Anti-Doping Code," the world governing body for cycling said.
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry, Steve Keating and Julien Pretot; Editing by Will Dunham)
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