Rock Racing: Search warrant issued for Michael Ball, Armstrong investigator Novitzky involved
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Rock Racing: Search warrant issued for Michael Ball, Armstrong investigator Novitzky involved

by VeloNation Press at 12:07 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
Possible connection to the Lance Armstrong investigation

Michael BallAccording to the Daily News, fashion designer Michael Ball is now being targeted by federal agents looking into the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) in the sport of cycling.  The paper reports that two people close to the investigation confirmed that Ball is named in a search warrant that remains under seal in California.  Apparently, criminal investigators from the Food and Drug Administration, the same agency heading the investigation into Lance Armstrong, have been questioning individuals associated with the Rock Racing team.

VeloNation reported in early April that Ball's company, Rock & Republic, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The fashion brand explained that it had taken the measure, which is typically used by companies or individuals with substantial debts, to continue to function while they follow debt repayment plans.

"The Chapter 11 filing is a strategic action that will alleviate balance sheet burdens and enable us to adopt the financial and operational initiatives needed to support the brand’s growth needs,” Geoffrey D. Lurie, the company’s newly named chief restructuring officer told the LA Times. “We are confident that this is the right move for Rock & Republic.”

The news that Ball's company was in trouble came after a long, rocky period of unpaid wages, dropped riders and ultimately a rejected license application by the International Cycling Union (UCI).  Ball founded the team in 2007 and later guaranteed its notoriety by signing up several riders linked to doping scandals, including Oscar Sevilla, Francisco Mancebo and Tyler Hamilton. It also signed Rudy Pevenage as a sporting director; this was another controversial move, as Pevenage was implicated in the Operación Puerto doping scandal.

The fashion designer said he was determined to carry on in a no holds barred interview with VeloNation following the UCI decision: "No, no, no. We are now going to be the baddest, fastest amateur team on the planet [laughing]! We are going to go to every race that we can, as long as the promoters want us, and kick everyone's ass like we have every year that we have been able to race."

Ball and his Rock Racing team tried to sign Landis two years ago, but instead he ended up working for the team in an unofficial capacity.  He tried to sign him again for the 2010 season, but the team fell apart in the process, with Ball blaming his affiliation with Landis as the reason for the UCI rejection of the team's professional license.

Lance ArmstrongA Daily News source has reported that FDA investigator Jeff Novitzky, the man in charge of the Lance Armstrong investigation, has been camped out in the Los Angeles area for quick access to cycling insiders involved in the case.  Landis accused Armstrong of systematic doping practices, charges that the American categorically denies.  Along with Armstrong, Landis accused several cyclists and prominent figures in the sport of cheating.

Former Rock Racing rider Hamilton, who was a former teammate of Armstrong's on the United States Postal Service team from 1998 until 2001, has stayed at Ball's residence in the past.  However, it's unclear if his presence there has anything to do with the recent search warrant.  Landis began riding for the American team in 2002, the year after Hamilton's departure.

Novitzky was the lead investigator for the BALCO case that involved several professional athletes, including baseball players Jason Grimsley and Barry Bonds as well as Olympic track sprinter Marion Jones.  The paper reports that although Ball was not named in any of Landis' email communications, Novitzky helped to obtain the search warrant on Ball's home in Los Angeles.

"Floyd is in a better place," Ball told the Daily News following Landis' confession. "Someone needed to come clean who was on the inside, who had lived it."  At the time he said he was 150 percent certain that Novitzky's drug probe wouldn't involve the Rock Racing team.

A source close to the investigation confirmed to the paper that the government's interest in Ball predates the recent scandal involving Armstrong.


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