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But the high ratios had not led to sanctions. In his letter Catlin did not address the 6.5-to-1 result, but he wrote that he had attempted confirmation (a required step) on the 9.0-to-1 and 7.6-to-1 samples, and "in both cases the confirmation was unsuccessful and the samples were reported negative."
Armstrong has long maintained that he has never tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, and since the A samples were not confirmed by positive follow-up samples, in this case he's right. The 1993, '94 and '96 tests were not reported as positive nor, according to Armstrong, were they brought to his attention. In fact, says Exum, "Out of tens of thousands of tests purchased during my tenure as Director of Drug Control at the USOC, I can remember only one T/E ratio being called positive."
During an interview with SI last week, Catlin was read his 1999 letter. He said that because he tested by code and not by name, he has "no clue which sample belonged to Lance," but he admits the data are disturbing. He explains that one failed confirmation would be a "once-in-a-blue-moon" occurrence. As for the three high T/E ratio results detailed in the letter, he says, "that's very strange." When Catlin's letter was read to Breidbach recently, he too expressed concern, saying, "Wow, that should not happen. If you find a nine and can't confirm, then something is very wrong with your screening test."
In 2005, Armstrong's camp approached Catlin for help in addressing doping allegations against the Texan. On Aug. 23 of that year the French sports daily L'Equipe reported, under the headline LE MENSONGE ARMSTRONG (The Armstrong Lie), that retesting by an IOC-certified Paris lab of urine samples taken from Armstrong and other cyclists during the 1999 Tour de France had indicated positive results for EPO. The retesting was done for research purposes, not for sanctioning, but Armstrong said on Larry King Live, "Do you think I'm going to trust some guy in a French lab to open my samples and say they're positive ... and not give me the chance to defend myself?" His advisers turned to Catlin.
A lawyer arrived at the UCLA lab in the fall of 2005. "My belief was that the lawyer was from USADA," says Breidbach, adding that Catlin asked him to show the lawyer around. Breidbach says they discussed the French lab's results. "I said that if the Paris lab had done it, it was probably correct," Breidbach says. "If there was a lab that could test for EPO at that time, it was the Paris lab." Weeks later, Breidbach says, "someone told me that this lawyer was working for Armstrong. It became clear to me that Catlin was trying to make a case for Armstrong." Catlin says the lawyer was identified as working for Armstrong and that Catlin viewed his visit as educational. The lawyer, Mark Levinstein, says he did not discuss the Paris lab with Breidbach. He and Breidbach agree only that they discussed EPO testing in general.
The following summer, Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman, who was hired by the International Cycling Union (UCI) to lead an investigation into the French lab's findings, issued a 132-page report citing a "complete absence" of a chain of custody of the urine samples and a lack of proper record security.
In February 2009, five months after announcing their drug-testing venture, Catlin and Armstrong ended it. In a statement to SI, Armstrong's lawyer explained, "When we announced the program with Dr. Catlin, we were unaware of the details of the rigorous independent program already in place on the Astana team. In addition, Dr. Catlin's program would have been very costly (at least $600,000)."
Says Catlin, "When you try to do a business deal with Lance, you're dealing with an entity that's got lots of lawyers and lots of issues. The cost kept going up and up as we got into those discussions. Astana [was] involved, and when I finally figured that out, I wasn't sure we'd ever get paid."
In its months of overseeing Armstrong's testing program, Catlin's lab had collected only one urine sample from him, says Oliver Catlin. The sample remains in the lab, Oliver says, and he says that it is clean.
In November 2009 Forbes magazine asked the world's movers and shakers a question: Who is the most powerful person in your field? Lance Armstrong's answer: Don Catlin.