POSTED: August 31st 2010

JOHN GOODBODY: New challenge coming over the hill for Tour giant Armstrong

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Aug 31: The storm clouds are gathering round the head of Lance Armstrong. The record seven-time Tour de France winner has been under intense pressure ever since his fellow American Floyd Landis admitted in an email in April that not only had he taken performance-enhancing drugs when he finished first in the 2006 Tour de France but also he alleged that Armstrong himself had done so in earlier years, when the pair were team colleagues.

Given that Landis had fought long, hard and, eventually, unsuccessfully to have the positive test overturned which took away his victory in the 2006 Tour, it was an extraordinary turn-round, even in the history of doping, where unexpected admissions of cheating are frequent.

Armstrong, who has never been found positive in an almost 20-year career, including a 2000 Olympic bronze medal in the road race, has repeatedly protested his innocence. During this year’s Tour when he finished 23rd, he said: "As long as I live, I will deny that (doping). There is absolutely no way I forced people, told people, helped people or facilitated. Absolutely not. 100 percent.”

Given that this year’s Tour was Armstrong’s last, although he will remain in the spotlight with fund-raising for his cancer charity, one might haveexpected the questions over him might disappear with his retirement.

However, the statement of Landis has aroused the interest of Jeff Novitzky, of the US Food and Drug Administration, a criminal investigator whose work in the Balco scandal resulted in sprinter Marion Jones going to jail for lying while baseball star Barry Bonds is facing a trial for perjury next year.

Novitzky and a grand jury have issued subpoenas to a number of Armstrong’s closest associates.

Armstrong himself has not been idle. His focused obduracy has always been astonishing, demonstrated by his recovery from cancer in the middle of his cycling career. Among the people he has hired to help him are a team of top lawyers and also a veteran legal and communications strategist Mark Fabiani, whose work for the Clintons in the mid-1990s and for the investment bank Goldman Sachs, led him to be dubbed ‘The Master of Disaster.’

'Unjustly pursued'

Fabiani claims that Armstrong “is being unjustly pursued by people, who ought to have better things to do with taxpayer dollars than chasing the discredited allegations of the disgraced Landis about international cycling that occurred years ago.”

Where then might the investigations be leading?

It seems there are two avenues. Armstrong’s lawyer, Tim Herman, has said that federal prosecutors have subpoenaed documents from a 2004 case in which SCA Promotions and Armstrong went to arbitration after SCA withheld a $5m performance bonus that the cyclist had been promised for his fifth successive Tour de France victory with the US Postal Services team.

The company claimed that the allegations about doping already circulating round Armstrong meant the contract was null and void. However, SCA lost and was forced to pay not just the money to Armstrong but also the legal costs.

If the prosecutors can prove that Armstrong lied in that dispute, he could be charged with perjury. In addition, because his team was sponsored by the US Postal Service during his triumphant years in the Tour, he might be charged with fraud, if public funds were used to buy performance-enhancing drugs.

There is a long way to go yet and Armstrong is a determined man. But then so is Jeff Novitzky.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · Armstrong · Landis · cycling · Novitzky · Tour de France

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