Landis investigation: riders back claims that Armstrong was involved in doping
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Landis investigation: riders back claims that Armstrong was involved in doping

by Conal Andrews at 6:45 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
Momentum growing in doping inquiry

Landis ArmstrongWith the Tour de France now over and several riders back in the US, the investigation into the Floyd Landis allegations against Lance Armstrong and others has stepped up a gear. Interviews with riders and other individuals named by Landis are taking place and others are scheduled to happen as early as next week, helping investigators to build a clearer picture of what may have taken place on the US Postal Service team.

The story is also one which is gaining momentum in terms of media coverage. Today’s New York Times carries an update on the case on its front page, placing the allegations centre stage and showing that it is being taken more seriously than previous claims made against Armstrong in the past.

According to the piece, a former teammate told the newspaper that he had confessed his own drug use to investigators, as well as detailing the widespread cheating that went on as part of the US Postal Service team. He said that Armstrong both knew about the doping, and encouraged it.

The rider was not identified as he insisted on anonymity. Thus far, he has not been called to testify in front of the grand jury convened in Los Angeles.

The paper said that many former team-mates and associates of Armstrong have been questioned in what is an intensified investigation. No clues have been given as to the identity of those who have spoken, but it is likely that the riders and individuals named by Landis in his communications with USADA, US Cycling, the UCI and others earlier this year will be the first that the investigators approach.

In an email seen earlier this year by VeloNation, Landis implicated a total of 23 people as being either involved with doping, facilitating/helping cover up its use, or witnessing banned practices or the exchange of doping products. These are:

Team manager Johan Bruyneel
Team co-owner and leader Lance Armstrong
Current and former pro riders George Hincapie, Dave Zabriskie, Levi Leiphemier, Matt White, Michael Barry, Jose Luis (Chechu) Rubiera
The other riders on the 2004 Tour de France team, namely Jose Azevedo, Viatcheslav Ekimov, Benjamin Noval, Manuel Beltran and Pavel Padrnos
Former UCI president Hein Verbruggen
Former Phonak personnel Andy Riis, John Lelangue and Jim Ochowitz
Dr Michele Ferrari
Dr Allen Lim
US Postal service staff members referred to as ‘Pepe,’ ‘Duffy,’ plus an un-named bus driver
Armstrong’s ex-wife Kristin

Leipheimer was named yesterday by his former Gerolsteiner team manager Hans Michael Holczer as having manipulated his blood during the 2005 Tour de France, thus increasing the pressure on the rider. Landis had claimed that both of them had received blood transfusions from Allen Lim at the race. Neither were with the US Postal Service team at the time, with Leipheimer having left several years earlier and competed for Rabobank and Gerolsteiner teams, and Landis being in the first year of a two-year deal with the Phonak squad.

Federal prosecutors will aim to interview as many of those named by Landis as is possible, although it is uncertain if they will have any power to summon non-American individuals. However Interpol and other international agencies are also involved in the investigation, suggesting that the inquiries may not be limited to US soil.

The UCI previously called on national federations to investigate claims made against non-American individuals. Lelangue, who is Belgian but holds a French licence to act as a directeur sportif, was previously interviewed by the French federation. During the Tour de France Zeit Online reported that Bruyneel was interrogated by the Belgian federation (KBWB), with the 45 year old denying all charges laid against him. The Chief investigator Jaak Fransen intends to continue digging, and is not expected to comment further until the investigation is completed.

Landis’ claims also included the allegation that the team sold a large number of spare bikes in order to fund the doping programme. The inquiry is therefore likely to extend to those involved with the Trek bicycle company, which backed the team for many years.

According to the New York Times, Hincapie and several others were contacted by the chief investigator Jeff Novitzky prior to the Tour de France. Hincapie’s lawyer, Zia F. Modabber, had indicated that the rider was likely to talk to Novitzky after the Tour de France ended; the newspaper contacted him yesterday, but said that he did not return a phone call and email message.

The newspaper said that people close to the investigation said that more riders are expected to meet the grand jury as soon as next week. It also said that Hamilton, who twice failed drug tests, has already spoken to them.

Those who are interviewed will face perjury charges if they don’t tell the truth. Novitzky was involved with the Balco case and that investigation saw Marion Jones, track coach Trevor Graham and former rider Tammy Thomas either jailed or being put under house arrest for lying under oath.

Some individuals are thought to have already been offered deals of reduced sanctions if they agree to testify against those higher up the chain of command. Lance Armstrong’s defence lawyer Bryan D. Daly cried foul in recent days, saying that this was tantamount to blackmail. However the WADA code allows for reduced sanctions for those who provide important information in investigations.

The New York Times said that neither Armstrong, his agent nor his manager would respond to requests for comment yesterday. The rider also declined to speak on the matter when asked by journalists covering the launch of the Quiznos Pro Challenge in Denver.

He previously denied all allegations of doping use. According to Daly, those who speak out against him are “caught up in the pursuit of a celebrity.”

“They just want them to incriminate Lance Armstrong and that’s my concern,” he told the New York Times, claiming that prosecutors and the US Anti Doping Agency are pressurising his former team-mates. “To the extent that there’s anyone besides Floyd Landis saying things, the bottom line is, if you take away the soap opera and look at the scientific evidence, there is nothing.”

“If Lance Armstrong came in second in those Tour de France races, there’s no way that Lance Armstrong would be involved in these cases,” Daly said. “I think that the concern is that they are caught up in the pursuit of a celebrity to catch him in a lie.”

However, perjury charges would also apply if ex-teammates and others falsely incriminate Armstrong.

The growing momentum of the investigation is due in part to the fact that the ten year statute of limitations on some of the charges is set to expire next spring. That means that the inquiry is likely to continue gaining pace in the weeks and months ahead.


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