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Reportedly told friends he would publicly acknowledge his cheating… but there are likely to be strings attached

Lance Armstrong could publically admit his secret doping and cheating that led him to seven Tour titles, in a bid to stage a comeback into sport.

A public confession could see him returning to competition - Armstrong had latterly been competing in triathlons following his second retirement from competitive cycing - in less than four years, as opposed to the lifetime ban he now faces.

According to the New York Times, Armstrong has met Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Authority (USADA), to discuss a confession

And a friend added that he had also sought to meet David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency,although the paper said that Tygart declined to comment and Mr Howman was unavailable for comment. Both claims were denied by Armstrong's lawyer, Tim Herman.

An admission might mean that Armstrong was able to begin competing again, while he is still being pursued for damages. The Sunday Times has sued him for the return of money paid for him to settle a libel claim. In 2006, the newspaper paid Armstrong £300,000 in an out-of-court settlement relating to its publication in 2004 of allegations that he doped - it could cost him £1 million.

The financial impact of the Sunday Times action however amounts to little more than small change when set against the money he is already being asked to repay by the Texan insurance company SCA promotions - a figure put at $12m dollars; and the amount the he will have to pay the United States Postal Service should a federal whistleblower case brought by Floyd Landis be successful. The Landis suit alleges that Tailwind Sports, the team management company, of which Armstrong was part owner, defrauded the US Government over the terms of its sponsorship agreement because undertakings were given that the team was not engaged in any form of doping. The US Postal Service paid $30 million to be title sponsor of Armstrong's team from 1999 to 2004 when he 'won' five of his Tour titles. As yet Armstrong's personal and team sponsors have not publicly at least asked for their money back.

That would change should Armstrong confess particularly were he to face a perjury charge over evidence he gave  under oath that he did not take performance enhancing drugs when he sued SCA over money it withheld from paying out in relation to insured win bonuses.

However what worries Armstrong and his lawyers most, according to the New York Times' sources is the prospect of perjury charges should he confess. A conviction would entail jail time and if a confession hadn't already triggered a tidal wave of litigation from former sponsors a perjury case certainly would. That would spell financial ruin for the Texan who has lost $50 million in sponsorship deals since his fall from grace and although his fortune is considerable it still at best only adds up to roughly the same as the amounts he could be sued for… at a conservative estimate.

No surprise then that Armstrong is reported to be be seeking assurances from the Justice Department that he would be immune from prosecution those assurances might be difficult to give if the US Government joins Landis as a plaintiff in the USPS funding case.

Judged dispassionately the New York Times story could be seen as an attempt by Armstrong and his associates to test the waters regarding a possible confession or partial confession while still keeping things at arms length from the man himself. The need to keep all this discussion at the level of unnamed associates while accompanied by denials from his lawyer is the simple fact that once  Armstrong or his legal team enter in to discussions about a confession they are admitting his guilt to the charges made against him by USADA and so many of his former teammates.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.