The former cycling chief accused of protecting Lance Armstrong has distanced himself from claims that he still supported the shamed cyclist, as a doping scandal left the US rider increasingly isolated.
Hein Verbruggen, who was president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) when Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times between 1999 and 2005, hit out amid anticipation of the shamed sportsman's first public comments on the scandal.
Dutchman Verbruggen, 71, and the UCI have been under pressure to respond to the failure to detect Armstrong's activities, which were detailed in a devastating US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) dossier last week that sent shockwaves through sport.
One suggestion has been that Verbruggen saw Armstrong - who returned to cycling after battling life-threatening cancer -- as the standard-bearer of a revived sport recently tarnished by a succession of doping scandals in the 1990s.
But he said a report in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf "unjustly states that despite USADA's dossier I still insist there is no proof", also rejecting claims that he took a bribe to cover up a positive test by Armstrong in 1999.
The bribery claims, he said, were "not worth an official statement", reiterating that Armstrong, whom the USADA last week said was at the heart of the biggest doping programme in sports history, had never tested positive by a drug laboratory.
"Therefore it could not have been hidden," he added in a UCI statement.
Verbruggen's statement emerged as Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport alleged that the USADA 202-page dossier on Armstrong and more than 1,000 pages of supplementary testimony had opened a "Pandora's box" of shady dealings.
Italian investigators probing a sports doctor said to have overseen Armstrong's use of banned substances, Michele Ferrari, offered an "all inclusive package" to top athletes and cyclists on how to cheat the dope testers, the daily claimed.
Dozens of athletes were reportedly implicated in the so-called "Ferrari system" and sometimes entire cycling teams, with the network involving money laundering, tax evasion and secret Swiss bank accounts.
The Italian probe could yet cause fresh controversy for the embattled sport, as sponsors, including sportswear giant Nike, torpedoed Armstrong from their marketing campaigns and the US rider stepped down from the cancer foundation he set up.
Armstrong himself accepted that the adverse publicity could impact on the foundation.
The American is set to speak at a gala fundraiser on Friday in Austin, Texas, to celebrate Livestrong's 15th anniversary, in what could prove to be an emotional first appearance in the spotlight since the scandal emerged.
His speech will be witnessed by a nominally friendly crowd of Livestrong backers, with organisers releasing a video recording afterwards on YouTube -- so there will be no tough questions about his fall from grace.
David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California and executive director of USC's Sports Business Institute, said any Armstrong journey to reclaim public respectability must include a confession.
"The only way they come back is when they take personal responsibility and accountability for what they've done," Carter said. "He has not taken responsibility."
That sets the stage for what could be a moment of truth for Armstrong. If not, there may be are hints about where the once-revered cycling legend goes from here.