Federal investigators looking into allegations of drug-taking by Lance Armstrong and other members of the former US Postal Service team have stepped up their enquiries following the end of the Tour de France last month, and have secured statements from several former team mates of the Texan cyclists claiming that he did take performance enhancing substances, according to a report in The New York Times.
The enquiry stems from accusations first made against the seven-times Tour de France winner and other members of the US Postal Service team in May this year by Floyd Landis, who rode for the team between 2002 and 2004. Armstrong has consistently denied Landis’s claims, pointing the cyclist’s vehement denial and subsequent admission of his own drug use as evidence of his unreliability.
One of Landis’s accusations is that the team sold bicycles supplied by Trek to finance its performance enhancing drugs programme, meaning that the enquiry concerns not just the use of drugs itself, but also whether sponsors such as US Postal Services were defrauded.
However, The New York Times says that other cyclists who have been interviewed by investigators, headed by Jeff Novitzky, who also led the investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative that revealed drug use by athletes such as Marion Jones and Dwain Chambers and baseball star Barry Bonds, among others, have provided detailed statements supporting Landis’s accusations, according to one of the cyclists concerned and two other people close to the enquiry.
Yesterday, the cyclist concerned, who requested anonymity and has never tested positive for performance enhancing substances, told the newspaper that he had outlined his own drug use to investigators, and had also given details of doping practices within the US Postal Service Team, adding that Armstrong had been aware of and encouraged them.
Besides the use of drugs itself, one strand of the investigation concerns Landis’s accusation that the team sold bicycles supplied by Trek to finance its performance enhancing drugs programme, meaning that the enquiry concerns not just the use of drugs itself, but also whether sponsors such as US Postal Services were defrauded.
One former rider who is believed to have met with the grand jury investigating the allegations is Tyler Hamilton, currently serving an eight-year ban for doping, who received a subpoena to appear before it last month.
Defence attorney Bryan D. Daly, who is acting for Armstrong, claimed that those cyclists accusing Armstrong of using drugs were lying. “They [the prosecutors] just want them to incriminate Lance Armstrong and that’s my concern,” he explained, going on to say that prosecutors were working with the United States Anti-Doping Agency to put pressure on former team mates of Armstrong to testify.
“To the extent that there’s anyone besides Floyd Landis saying things, the bottom line is, if you take away the soap opera and look at the scientific evidence, there is nothing,” continued Daly, who added that the reasons for the enquiry remained “very murky for us.”
The lawyer concluded: “If Lance Armstrong came in second in those Tour de France races, there’s no way that Lance Armstrong would be involved in these cases. I think that the concern is that they are caught up in the pursuit of a celebrity to catch him in a lie.”
According to the New York Times, the federal prosecution team, including Doug Miller who, like Novitzky, was involved in the BALCO investigation, wants to push the case along because some of the allegations that they are investigating date back nearly ten years and will therefore become statute barred early next year.
The newspaper added that Novitzky had contacted a number of former team mates of Armstrong before the Tour de France began last month, including George Hincapie, now with BMC Racing, whose lawyer said at the time that his client would speak to investigators once the tour was over. It is not known whether that has happened yet.
As The New York Times points out, there is a strong incentive for cyclists who receive an interview request from Novitzky or are subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury to co-operate. In the BALCO case, Marion Jones was sentenced to six months in prison, partly because she had lied to investigators regarding her own drug use.
Asked about the latest developments in the investigation in Colorado, where he was launching a week-long stage race to be held in August 2011, Armstrong, who has sought to undermine Landis’s claims by attacking his credibility, said that he had “nothing to say” regarding the federal investigation.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.