After Tour de France, Lance Armstrong and ex-associates could be dogged by federal doping investigation
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong will wind down his competitive career and ride up the Champs-Élysées in Paris for the last time as the 2010 Tour concludes next weekend, but he won't be leaving the sport behind. A federal investigation into doping in cycling threatens to dog him and his former U.S. Postal Service team associates for at least the next year, and could potentially jeopardize his legacy.
Since Floyd Landis claimed publicly in May that he participated in a secret doping program with Armstrong and others on the USPS team between 2002 and 2004, federal investigators have sought information from some of Armstrong's closest teammates and the bicycle manufacturer that sponsored his team, trying to determine whether drug-related or other crimes were committed.
At least two people have corroborated some of Landis's sweeping claims regarding doping, according to an individual with knowledge of the investigation, who along with several others spoke on condition of anonymity for this story because they were not authorized to provide information. The additional evidence has caused the probe -- which, when it officially opened in January had nothing to do with Armstrong, according to sources -- to pick up the pace in recent weeks.
Armstrong has repeatedly denied taking performance-enhancing drugs and has passed hundreds of drug tests. At the Tour this past Wednesday, he expressed frustration at the swirl of rumors, telling reporters in France that, "as long as we have a legitimate and credible and fair investigation I will be happy to cooperate, but I'm not going to participate in any kind of witch hunt."
Armstrong and his attorney also have attacked Landis's credibility in the aftermath of the recent allegations. Landis, who lost his 2006 Tour de France crown because of a positive drug test, had staunchly denied taking drugs for years, going so far as to write a book proclaiming his innocence while collecting donations from fans for his legal defense.
Tim Herman, Armstrong's Austin-based attorney, said he found it hard to believe the government would believe Landis since he has lied repeatedly and under oath. "What is so reprehensible is this guy bilked his best friends out of $2 million to fund a bogus defense," Herman said. "I can't believe anybody would want to take Floyd Landis to the prom."
Landis, through his attorneys, declined to comment for this story.
The investigation, overseen by prosecutor Doug Miller in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, has been conducted largely by Jeff Novitzky, a special agent in the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations who led a previous federal drug investigation that ensnared track star Marion Jones, baseball legend Barry Bonds and others.
Subpoenas have been issued for documents and at least one former cyclist. Greg LeMond received a subpoena on Friday, according to the New York Daily News. Novitzky has sought interviews with potential witnesses, offering proffers of limited immunity that protect them from prosecution unless they lie, according to a source.
Attorneys for former Armstrong teammates George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton say Novitzky contacted them, but no meetings have occurred. Former Armstrong teammates Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde also have been contacted, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.
Novitzky declined to comment in an e-mail.
The probe is expected to intensify after the Tour de France, when cyclists return to the United States.