My Life With Lance
Drugs and the Peloton
During Tyler Hamilton’s round of interviews last week about The Secret Race, he made a noteworthy comment to ESPN’s Bonnie Ford. The subject was Lance Armstrong’s decision to stop fighting the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in its attempt to strip him of seven Tour de France titles. “I’ve never seen Lance throw in the towel before,” Hamilton said. “I expect there will be plenty more fighting. He’s not done, trust me. The day he puts up the white flag is the day he dies.”
Those words are worth remembering during this extraordinary news cycle, because some people are already talking about forgiveness and what it would take for Armstrong to earn it. The International Cycling Union (UCI) and USADA have suggested that pro cycling form a truth-and-reconciliation commission to facilitate a process of large-scale confession, mitigated punishment, and healing. Cyclists who come clean might be able to earn reduced USADA penalties in exchange for fessing up.
Should Armstrong come forward and talk? Such a prospect may delight people who believe he’s gotten away with too much for too long. But that strategy doesn’t make sense for the man himself: USADA seems determined to punish him regardless, and at this point there may not be much he could say that they don’t already know.
The only thing talking would do is increase Armstrong’s potential legal liabilities, which are already considerable. When USADA releases its evidence in support of stripping Armstrong’s titles—which is expected to happen soon—he faces the prospect of new criminal and civil charges, some connected to legal battles he’s fought and won in the past. In the face of all this, Armstrong’s silence about doping is his best defense. Here’s a look at the pitfalls of changing that course.
ARMSTRONG COULD GO TO JAIL
This may be the most serious risk of an admission. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles pursued a lengthy investigation of cycling and Armstrong, focused on the Postal Service sponsorship of Armstrong’s team. Apparently, U.S. attorneys were exploring whether the team defrauded the United States Postal Service, using some of the sponsorship money to run a doping conspiracy. U.S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr. closed the investigation in February without filing any charges, but as Thom Mrozek, a spokesmen for the office, told Outside, “We didn’t limit our options, in case significant new developments warranted action on our part.”
Reopening such an investigation is rare, but it happens. Until all statutes of limitations run out—for example, the crime of lying to a federal officer has a five-year limit—Armstrong has a sword hanging over his head. He could, for example, face the prospect of jail time if it turns out he lied to federal agents during the initial investigation by denying he ever doped or knew anything about doping on the team.
An admission could be like raw meat to the feds, says veteran San Diego lawyer Michael Lipman, who has served as both a federal prosecutor and a defense attorney and has worked with professional athletes. “Why would he put himself at risk and say, ‘Hey! Here! Take a shot at me?’” Lipman says. A lawyer close to the investigation—who asked to remain anonymous—agrees, saying that the government “has every incentive to get something for the time and money” it has already invested.
Sometime soon, USADA has to reveal to the UCI what evidence it has to support banning Armstrong from competition and stripping him of his titles. In response, the UCI is likely to comply with USADA’s request to sanction Armstrong. While such developments may prove very embarrassing for Armstrong and the people around him, it probably won’t change his situation as far as federal prosecutors are concerned. The feds already know everything USADA knows. (They helped USADA acquire the evidence, after all.) Mrozek says that, as of now, there haven’t been any developments significant enough to warrant reopening the investigation.