As the world learned just before the start of this summer's Tour de France, federal investigators are pedaling furiously toward Lance Armstrong's back wheel, hoping to solve the enduring mystery of whether the seven-time Tour winner really did cheat during his legendary cycling career. Floyd Landis, the disgraced winner of the 2006 Tour, got the pursuit going, saying last May that he had used drugs and had blood transfusions during his career—and lied about it—and claiming that Armstrong had cheated, too. According to allegations that first surfaced in The Wall Street Journal, Armstrong and team director Johan Bruyneel introduced Landis to systematic doping within the old U.S. Postal Service squad, with Armstrong supposedly explaining how to transfuse blood packed with performance-boosting red blood cells.
And with that charge, an all-important figure entered the story: Jeff Novitzky, a six-foot-six, chrome-domed, gun-packing G-man who's an investigator with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The 43-year-old Novitzky, the man who famously broke the BALCO drug scandal, had already been looking into doping rumors surrounding a low-level Los Angeles–based cycling team called Rock Racing but quickly turned his attention to Armstrong once Landis started talking.
The FDA? Not the FBI or the DEA? It is a bit puzzling at first. Questions have been raised about why the FDA would be investigating Rock Racing to begin with—the possible involvement of performance-enhancing drugs presumably provided the rationale—and you don't have to love Armstrong to wonder how an FDA agent has managed to harness the fearsome power of the Justice Department to investigate cheating incidents that, if they happened at all, happened mainly in Europe. Federal officials won't explain, because they refuse to acknowledge that there even is an investigation, although it's been a big story in the WSJ, The New York Times, and many other news outlets. It's also widely known that a grand jury, assembled in Los Angeles, has been taking testimony that could lead to various federal charges against Armstrong.
According to reports, Novitzky, with the backing of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles—and the de facto partnership of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), a private body—has contacted, and sometimes subpoenaed, current and former Armstrong teammates like Landis, George Hincapie, and Tyler Hamilton, along with employees at sponsors like Trek and Nike. Greg LeMond, a frequent Armstrong scourge, has been asked for documents relating to a past civil case in which LeMond battled Trek over the manufacturer's sales of his signature bikes, with Trek saying LeMond devalued the brand by accusing Armstrong of doping. It's also clear, based on conversations with many sources in a position to know—most of whom requested anonymity, fearing legal repercussions—that Novitzky has targeted peripheral figures, including people who may have testified in old civil cases involving Armstrong that touched on doping.
Reportedly, Novitzky wants to know whether Armstrong perjured himself when he swore in those cases that he'd never doped and whether he somehow defrauded the Postal Service by using its sponsorship dollars to obtain doping products and win titles under the false pretense that he was racing clean. If that seems like a convoluted path of attack, it is, but such accusations can be a powerful tool. They give Novitzky justification for federal involvement, subpoenas, and the interrogation of witnesses—with the possibility that he might level new charges against anybody he catches in a lie.
Armstrong, of course, has long been a spoke in the craw of the anti-doping agencies, so it's no surprise he's still considered big game, even in the twilight of his career. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)—in the person of its former chief, Dick Pound—has accused him of doping before, triggering complaints from Armstrong's lawyers that led to an International Olympic Committee rebuke of Pound. Still, both USADA and WADA think he's gotten away with wrongdoing and has become rich and famous as a result. Now they want Armstrong, at long last, to admit he cheated—something he says he'll never do because it didn't happen. (Armstrong, through his lawyers, declined to comment on the situation for this article.)
In this take-no-prisoners struggle, Novitzky is the avenging angel for the anti-doping agencies and Armstrong's enemies. Don Catlin, former director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, one of the best dope-testing labs in the world—and a man who admires Novitzky but has become concerned about the government's growing role in policing sports doping—believes the current investigation was instigated by USADA. "Lots of people do not like Lance Armstrong," he says, "and they are convinced he did [dope] and they want to expose it."
Tim Herman, Armstrong's Austin-based lawyer, says that USADA head Travis Tygart and USADA-affiliated lawyer Richard Young have been sitting in on some of Novitzky's interviews—a story supported by another source. Tygart declined to discuss this issue, but if true it would represent highly unusual participation by a private outfit in a federal investigation.