The dialogue that was launched and has since halted appears to be part of a three-way chess match among Armstrong; USADA, the agency that in October published a damning, 1,000-page dossier detailing Armstrong’s blood-doping and use of banned substances throughout his professional cycling career; and the U.S. Justice Department.
As a result of USADA’s report, which said Armstrong’s career “was fueled from start to finish by doping” and based in part on testimony of 11 former teammates, cycling’s international governing body stripped Armstrong of his record seven Tour de France titles and banned him from competition for life.
Now, after nearly three months without comment on the allegations, which also cost him lucrative sponsorships with Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Oakley and others, Armstrong apparently is interested in regaining the right to compete — if not in cycling, then in triathlon, a sport that has upheld the ban against him taking part in sanctioned meets.
But the prospect of any confession, whether in part or in full, is fraught with legal and financial peril for Armstrong, who has testified under oath that his cycling achievements were not tainted by illegal substances and has successfully sued one journalist for alleging otherwise in print.
Armstrong’s greatest exposure relates to a whistleblower suit filed by former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone, alleging that Armstrong and his teammates defrauded the U.S. government of roughly $33 million (the value of the government’s multiyear sponsorship of the U.S. Postal Service cycling team) by achieving its success via doping in violation of its contract.
The Justice Department has been weighing whether the join the action, known as a qui tam suit, and pursue those funds, which would be trebled under whistleblower penalties.
Regardless of the Justice Department’s decision regarding the whistleblower suit, Armstrong likely faces a host of lawsuits seeking repayment of his winnings, as well as possible perjury charges, having testified in 2006 that he competed drug-free to collect $7.5 million from a Texas indemnity company as a bonus, with interest, for having won five consecutive Tour de France titles.
Armstrong, 41, has vehemently denied any involvement with blood doping or banned substances throughout his career. But in August he announced he was dropping his fight against USADA because its process failed to guarantee Armstrong the right to confront his accusers in court. And when USADA’s voluminous report was made public in October, Armstrong’s lawyer castigated it as “a taxpayer-funded witch hunt.”
Nonetheless, it was convincing enough to sway Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) and longtime defender of the native Texan. McQuaid said he was “sickened by” accounts that Armstrong had doped, lied, bullied and threatened his way to glory — even demanding that key teammates on the U.S. Postal Service squad dope, as well, to further his championship pursuits.
“Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling,” McQuaid said at the time.