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Armstrong's manager departs as scandal widens

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong (L) talks to the media as Astana team general manager Johan Bruyneel looks on during news c
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong (L) talks to the media as Astana team general manager Johan Bruyneel looks on during news c

By Julian Linden

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lance Armstrong's former manager, Johan Bruyneel, fell on his sword Friday as the fallout from the latest revelations about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional cycling intensified.

Armstrong spent the day in hiding, cancelling a scheduled public appearance in Chicago, as lawyers from all sides were sifting through the mountain of allegations and plotting their next moves.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) said it was still considering whether it would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a ruling by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to ban Armstrong for life and strip him of his seven Tour de France wins.

The UCI has 21 days to lodge an appeal but UCI president Pat McQuaid said he was leaving the decision to lawyers.

"I've told them that is a priority," McQuaid told Reuters at the Tour of Beijing. "That we get this job done as quickly as possible, and within that time frame we will be back."

The UCI's decision could have serious legal ramifications. American legal experts were speculating whether federal prosecutors could reopen a criminal investigation into Armstrong that collapsed earlier this year.

And a Texan promotional company, which paid out millions of dollars to Armstrong after he provided sworn evidence he did not use performance-enhancing drugs, said it was closely monitoring the case.

'AWAIT RESPONSE'

"At this point, the report is in the hands of the UCI," Jeffrey Dorough, an in-house lawyer for SCA Promotions, told Reuters.

"At this point in time we will await a response from the UCI before we make any kind of decision regarding our legal options. We are definitely monitoring the developments."

Tour de France officials said that if Armstrong's seven victories between 1999 and 2005 were wiped from the record books, it was unlikely anyone else would be promoted as the winner because the period was so tainted by doping.

"It depicts an era and a system which are forever soiled," race director Christian Prudhomme told Reuters in Paris.

"The best solution is to say that there should be no (Tour) winner those years."

Bruyneel, Armstrong's team manager during each of his seven wins, left RadioShack Nissan on Friday after being implicated in the scandal.

The Belgian was identified in the USADA report, which was released on Wednesday and included sworn testimonies from 26 people, as one of the ringleaders of an elaborate doping programme that took Armstrong to the top of his sport.

MUTUAL AGREEMENT

Bruyneel, who is contesting his own case with USADA, was a part owner of the RadioShack team but reached a mutual agreement prompting him to quit.

"In light of these testimonies, both parties feel it is necessary to make this decision since Johan Bruyneel can no longer direct the team in an efficient and comfortable way," the team said in a statement.

The news of Bruyneel's departure came on the same day one of the team's lead riders, four-times world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara, said he was considering leaving the because of Bruyneel's links to the doping ring.

"I don't know if I can still work with Johan," the Swiss cyclist told the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. "We'll see what happens next. I want to know what happened."

In Australia, local cycling officials said it was time governments looked at criminalizing doping in sport in the hope of deterring cheats.

"(I think) we are ready to take the next step to say to government that it ought to be criminalized," the president of Cycling Australia, Klaus Mueller, told a news conference.

"That sends out a very strong message to all sporting people that this conduct is very serious, in fact criminal, warranting jail sentence and it gives the police the power to investigate."

(Additional reporting by Julien Pretot in Paris, Corrie MacLaggan in Austin and Greg Stuchbury in Wellington; Editing by Alison Wildey)

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