A legal deadline that expired yesterday means that Lance Armstrong cannot now sue former US Postal Service team mate Floyd Landis for defamation as a result of the latter’s accusations that the seven-time Tour de France winner was central to an organised system of doping within the team.
Yesterday marked the passing of a year since Landis, who won the Tour de France in 2006, the year after Armstrong first retired, but was later stripped of his title for doping, emailed Steve Johnson, CEO of USA Cycling, setting out his accusations against the Texan and other former US Postal Service riders as well as members of its management team. Landis's allegations were subsequently repeated in a number of media outlets, led by The Wall Street Journal.
According to the New York Daily News, that means that under the law applicable in California, the state where Landis made his claims, Armstrong, who has always denied the claims and raised questions over his former team mate’s credibility as someone who long denied doping before finally confessing to it, is now statute-barred from bringing a defamation action.
There could be several reasons behind Armstrong’s apparent decision not to sue. First, it’s well known that any money Landis might once have made from cycling has long been swallowed up by costs incurred as he tried to clear his own name.
Secondly, Armstrong and his advisors may be focusing their efforts more on the ongoing investigation into doping within professional cycling in the US being led by FDA Special Agent Jeff Novitzky and a Federal Grand Jury in Los Angeles.
Things have gone quiet on that front recently, possibly due to Bonds’ involvement in the Barry Bonds perjury trial, which led to the former baseball star’s conviction last month, but recent police raids on a number of riders in Italy are said to be linked to Novitzky’s investigation, demonstrating that it is very much alive.
The Italian press has also reported recently that Novitzky has turned his attentions to an examination of the bank accounts of Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari, Armstrong’s former trainer. The cyclist severed his professional links with the physician in 2004, but last month his spokesman, Mark Fabiani, confirmed that the pair had met socially last year.
Conspiracy theorists might point to a third reason for Armstrong not wishing to sue Landis for defamation – it would mean that he would be certain to have to take the witness stand himself and subject to intense cross-examination.
"Litigation is distracting and expensive and opens the door to a lot of bad things," James Wagstaffe, a San Francisco-based lawyer who has defended large publishers in defamation cases, told the New York Daily News.
"I tell people you have to be careful what you ask for," he continued, mentioning the writer Oscar Wilde and baseball star Roger Clemens, two plaintiffs in high-profile defamation cases who instead saw themselves impaled on the sword of justice. "It opens a lot of doors to discovery into anything about their reputation that's bad."
For their part, Armstrong and his associates say that they don’t wish to give Landis any more publicity than he has already receieved. "We have no intention of wasting any more time or money on Floyd Landis," said Fabiani. "He is a person who is so discredited already that it would be impossible to discredit him anymore."
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.