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Ex-assistant says he found steroid in cyclist's home
By SUZANNE HALLIBURTON
AUSTIN, Texas — A former personal assistant to Lance Armstrong said he found a banned steroid in the bathroom cabinet of the six-time Tour de France champion, according to court documents filed Thursday.
Mike Anderson, who worked for Armstrong until November, and the cycling champion are involved in a lawsuit regarding Anderson's termination and alleged promises made to him by Armstrong to help him open a bike shop.
Armstrong filed the first suit in December. Thursday's filing, which included additional information on earlier drug-use allegations made by Anderson, was part of Anderson's counterclaim to the initial suit.
Armstrong was in Europe on Thursday, training for what figures to be his last Tour de France. He is planning "a major announcement'' regarding his future during a news conference on April 18.
Newspapers in Europe, including France's Le Figaro and Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport, have been speculatingthat the announcement will be that the 33-year-old Armstrong is retiring, possibly in advance of the Tour.
Armstrong, via e-mail, deferred comment on the Anderson lawsuit to Tim Herman, his Austin-based attorney.
Herman said he was not surprised by Thursday's counterclaim, since Anderson's attorneys first made the drug allegations, he said, when they demanded $500,000 from Armstrong.
"It's precisely what they threatened to do, unless we paid them the money,'' Herman said. "When they asked for the $500,000, they might should have worn a ski mask... We told them unequivocably we are not going to pay blackmail or extortion money on something that's not true.''
Hal Gillespie, Anderson's Dallas-based attorney, said the $500,000 was part of a "settlement proposal and not a demand'' put forth to Armstrong before the suits were filed. He said the proposal was no longer "on the table.''
"Lance Armstrong has damaged Mike Anderson's reputation and has subjected Mike and his family to ridicule,'' Gillespie said.
According to Anderson's counterclaim, he was cleaning the bathroom of Armstrong's home in Girona, Spain, early in 2004 when he found a white box with red and black lettering and a "normal label like any other prescription drug.''
"However, there was no doctor's prescription attached,'' the court papers said. According to the counterclaim, Anderson said the trademark name was "Androstenin or something very close to this."
Anderson said he looked up the substance on the Web sites of the World Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and discovered that the substance was "an androgen and on the banned substance list.''
"Androstenin'' is not on the banned lists of WADA, USADA or the UCI, the governing body of international cycling. However, the substances androstenedione and androstenediol are listed as illegal drugs. They are classified as steroid precursors and are included as an androgen, which is a class of male hormone drugs. These kind of drugs help athletes build muscle mass. Mark McGwire admitted he was using androstenedione when he broke Major League Baseball's single-season home run record.
Until Jan. 20, steroid precursors such as androstenedione, commonly known as "andro," were sold over the counter as dietary supplements. It is now illegal under federal law to possess these supplements without a doctor's prescription.
John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor and an author who has documented abuses of drugs in sports for decades, questioned whether an endurance athlete such as Armstrong would desire to take an androgen.
"It's not a drug you find turning up in the hotel rooms of professional cyclists,'' Hoberman said, referring to drug raids police have frequently conducted in European countries during big cycling events, especially the Giro d'Italia.
The banned drug of choice with cyclists is artificial erythropoietin, or EPO, which is used to increase the number of red blood cells carrying oxygen. Cyclists have used testosterone, a naturally-produced male hormone, to better recover during long stage races such as the 23-day Tour.
Armstrong has never tested positive for an illegal substance during his six-year Tour de France winning streak. He has been tested at the beginning of every Tour and each day he wore the overall leader's yellow jersey. He was handpicked last July by France's Minister of Sport for a random screen featuring the newest technology designed to pick up the use of EPO and other banned substances.
"The last thing an endurance athlete wants to do is look like Mark McGwire,'' Herman said. "With the testing at the Tour . . . if he had taken an anabolic steroid, it would have set (the test) on fire."
Anderson, in the counterclaim, also said he never discussed his discovery of the white box with Armstrong. He said he has never witnessed Armstrong taking drugs.
However, he did say that during a discussion early last year, Anderson asked him about a well-known Belgian cyclist who had tested positive for drugs. According to the counterclaim, Armstrong replied, "Everyone does it.''