Drugs, "lies" and audiotape: Key witness appears before Lance Armstrong grand jury

Testimony to focus on phone call secretly taped by Greg LeMond

by Simon_MacMichael   September 22, 2010  

Lance Armstrong (pic courtesy Photosport International)

A long-time associate of Lance Armstrong will today appear before a federal grand jury to clarify whether or not she had heard the cyclist telling doctors that he had taken performance enhancing drugs.

Investigators are focusing on a secret recording made by Greg LeMond of a telephone conversation with Stephanie McIlvain, the woman concerned, who acted as Armstrong’s liason with his eyewear sponsor, Oakley, according to the LA Times.

In the conversation, McIlvain allegedly describes the protection afforded to Armstrong as “sickening,” and accuses the cancer survivor of offering people “false hope.”

McIlvain, together with Frankie Andreu – a former team mate of Armstrong at Motorola and subsequently US Postal Service – and his wife Betsy, was present in an Indianapolis hospital room in 1996 when Armstrong, then receiving treatment against cancer, is alleged by Mrs Andreu to have confessed to doctors to having taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong, of course, would recover from his cancer and go on to win an unprecedented seven Tour de France titles as well as setting up the Lance Armstrong Foundation charity, and in the process has become one of the most famous sportsmen and health campaigners on the planet.

Mrs Andreu’s allegations were initially made in connection with a court case, settled in 2006 in favour of Armstrong and Tailwind Sports, regarding the withholding of bonuses by a Texas-based sports promotions company. In a 2005 deposition related to that case, Ms McIlvain said that she did not recall Armstrong making any such admission.

However, that court case has become the subject of renewed focus ever since Armstrong’s former US Postal Service team mate, Floyd Landis, alleged in May this year that doping was rife within the team and that Armstrong was one its chief advocates.

Mrs Andreu has recently repeated her allegations to Special Agent Jeff Novitzky of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), who is investigating doping within cycling in the US, and whose previous investigations have destroyed the reputations of athletes including baseball legend Barry Bonds and Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones.

Today’s appearance before the grand jury of Ms McIlvain will focus around what may or may not have been said in that hospital room, as well as the contents of a telephone conversation she apparently had with Greg LeMond in 2004.

LeMond, himself a three-time Tour de France champion, settled a lawsuit earlier this year with Trek Bicycle Corporation, former manufacturer and distributor of bikes bearing his name, which he said had its roots in comments he made in 2001 regarding Armstrong’s links with the Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, then being investigated for links to doping.

During the 30-minute conversation LeMond taped with McIlvain – telephone calls taped with just one party’s consent are admissible as federal evidence – the Oakley representative reportedly referred to Armstrong as a liar, without stating what she believed he was lying about.

"So many people protect him that it's just sickening," McIlvain told LeMond, reported the LA Times. She added that she "can't even watch" Armstrong’s bid at the time for a sixth consecutive Tour de France title.

"He's giving how many people false hope?" McIlvain, whose son suffers from autism, continued. "[It's] the most disgusting thing ever for someone to do. Coming as someone whose son has a handicap, you look to people for hope and strength. That kills me."

Referring to Armstrong, she also said that “even his best friend" was aware "he's on it," and concluded: “I'd love for it to come out," without disclosing the identity of that friend nor revealing what “it” might be.

Legal and communications strategist Mark Fabiani, hired by Armstrong to help in his fight against the various allegations, told the LA Times in an email: "It makes no sense to waste the money of taxpayers and the time of the FDA and the grand jury on very old issues that were long ago fully examined,” an argument that the Armstrong camp has consistently employed in countering the allegations.

He added: “Ms. McIlvain has already testified at length under oath in 2005, and the mythical hospital meeting has been completely disproved by both witnesses and medical records."