Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong now has the pleasure of having not only the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) looking up his ass, but also the former IRS agent, turned FDA special agent, who was the lead investigator in the BALCO case, Jeff Novitzky. In addition to USADA's investigation, Novitzky has focused the forces of the Food and Drug Administration's criminal investigations unit on Armstrong to look into whether or not he took performance enhancing drugs when he won cycling's most prestigious race. Novitzky, who made a name for himself in the press spending tens of millions of dollars chasing Barry Bonds out of Cooperstown, became famous in the BALCO case which involved numerous top professional and Olympic athletes, many of whom went to jail, were discredited, or ended their careers.
In the BALCO case, Novitzky clearly had his sites set on lynching Barry Bonds. Unfortunately for Novitzky, the only witness that could make Novitzky's case was Bonds' trainer Greg Anderson, who refused to rat on Bonds. This time, however, Novitzky seems to have Armstrong by the short and curlies because, unlike Greg Anderson and his fierce no cooperating with the cops mentality, Novitzky has no shortage of rats willing to drop dimes on Armstrong; namely his ex wife Kristen who is cooperating with the investigation, in addition to disgraced Tour de France winner Floyd Landis who was stripped of his Tour victory after he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2006. According to reports, Landis places Armstrong's ex wife at the scene in 2001 where Armstrong personally handed Landis a box of testosterone patches, and in 2003 when he gave him the Eprex brand of EPO.
Of course Armstrong has denied all of the allegations, stating that Landis has no credibility. Nor, probably, in his mind does his ex because she might possibly be perceived as bitter. Two bitter people out the get Lance: the Tour de France winner who was stripped of his title for failing a drug test and the ex wife who was stripped of her rich husband. These two could easily be looked at as feeling like,
"Why me? How come Armstrong gets to get away with it? If I'm not getting any then either is he...." Blah, blah, blah...
The response from Armstrong is the classic deny, deny, deny. In fact, Not only is Armstrong taking the deny it approach, his team is standing by him and bolstering the denial. Team RadioShack released a statement saying, "after not getting what he demanded when no one in cycling capitulated to his numerous but persistent false threats, demands and rants, Floyd Landis publicly aired the false and incredible concoctions he has been privately making for years." RadioShack noted that Landis has accused at least 16 professional cycling individuals and organizations of activity that is "baseless and quite simply untrue." But.... And this is a big "BUT"-- Jeff Novitzky is on the case. The thing with Novitzky is that he likes going after the biggest name athletes he can get in his sights. He's like the federal big game hunter, only seeking the biggest juiciest quarry. Bonds was huge for Novitzky. Even though his hunt for Bonds came up very very short, Novitzky did have the good fortune of opening up the BALCO case as a result of his hunt for Bonds, and did end up putting several others in jail for their involvement - or lying about their involvement. But he never got Bonds. And he never will. But, now, Lance Armstrong is big game just like Bonds. Same level, maybe even bigger. And if he goes after him he's got the thing he didn't have going after Bonds - witnesses willing to testify.
You know, I have to feel for Lance. On one hand here's a guy who beat cancer and came back to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times (from 1999 - 2005). He becomes an American sports hero racking up impressive accolades from the respected sports community, such as being named ABC Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year in 1999, and Sports Illustrated ‘s Sportsman of the Year in 2002. He was also named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for the years 2002-2005. He received ESPN's ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, the list goes on... Then he retires from racing at the end of the 2005 Tour de France to focus on his cancer foundation that has a tremendous affinity for kids - sick kids. Then, in 2009 Armstrong returned to the Tour and finished a remarkable third after a four year absence. The guy is an American icon, probably even bigger than Bonds because of the cancer and philanthropic elements. Armstrong represents hope over adversity and is undeniably an inspiration to many kids, athletes, and desperate sick people all over the world. No matter what the truth is, no matter what charges are brought, no one would ever doubt this great American hero, nor doubt he played by the rules. On the other hand, if the BALCO case has proven anything, it has proven that the standard "I didn't do it" defense does not work. It hasn't worked once. Everyone knew that everyone named in the BALCO case was guilty as sin and they were. All the denials did was make it worse. So, what's Armstrong to do? Does everyone really believe that if he passed his drug test that means Armstrong is clean? I hope no one reading this is that ignorant. The rest of the world is though. But seriously, does anyone really believe Armstrong was clean? Anyone? And if Landis and the Ex wife lack credibility, the suspicions over Armstrong give them back their teeth. I predict that Armstrong's denials are going to come back and bite him.
But Novitzky needs evidence... some proof. Landis says there was proof, however, he alleges that the International Cycling Union (UCI) was paid off to keep a positive EPO test of Armstrong's under the carpet. The president of the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) recently stated that the suspicions surrounding Armstrong should be clarified before allowing the presence of the American RadioShack team in the race this year. The AFLD has a history of clashes with both Armstrong and the UCI, citing that the UCI has given Armstrong preferential treatment in matters involving drug testing.
Armstrong, of course, has continually denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs and has described himself as "the most tested athlete in the world. To wit, on March 17, 2009, the French Anti-doping Agency tested Armstrong for the 24th time in the last year and the test was negative for performance-enhancing drugs. But does that mean he's clean? Well, since we can't look at hard evidence, lets look at the circumstantial....
Armstrong has been criticized for working with controversial trainer Michele Ferrari. Following Ferrari's later-overturned conviction for "sporting fraud" and "abuse of the medical profession", Armstrong suspended his professional relationship with him, saying that he had "zero tolerance for anyone convicted of using or facilitating the use of performance-enhancing drugs" and denying that Ferrari had ever "suggested, prescribed or provided me with any performance-enhancing drugs."
In 2004, allegations surfaced implicating Armstrong's former masseuse, Emma O'Reilly, who claimed Armstrong once asked her to dispose of used syringes and to give him makeup to conceal needle marks on his arms.
Fellow riders on 1995's Motorola team have stated that Armstrong began using drugs in 1995, a claim denied by other team members. In 2005, a former personal assistant to Armstrong claimed that he discovered a box of Androstenone while cleaning a bathroom in Armstrong's apartment in Girona, Spain. Armstrong denied the claim and sued the former assistant. The two men reached an out-of-court settlement in November 2005; the terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
In August 2005, a major French daily sports newspaper reported on its front page that 6 urine samples taken from Armstrong during the prologue and five stages of the 1999 Tour de France, frozen and stored since at a lab, had tested positive for EPO in recent retesting conducted as part of a research project into EPO testing methods. For years, it had been impossible to detect the drug. This claim was based on an investigation in which they claimed to be able to match samples from the 1999 Tour that were used to link the EPO test to Armstrong. Armstrong's response was, "I have never taken performance enhancing drugs."
In October 2008, the AFLD gave Armstrong the opportunity to have samples taken during the 1998 and 1999 Tours de France retested. Armstrong immediately refused, saying, "the samples have not been maintained properly." Head of AFLD stated: "Scientifically there is no problem to analyze these samples - everything is correct" and "If the analysis is clean it would have been very good for Armstrong. But he doesn't want to do it and that's his problem."
In 2006, a French newspaper reported that Armstrong had admitted using performance-enhancing drugs to his physician just after brain surgery in 1996. The testimony was related to litigation between Armstrong and SCA Promotions, a Texas company attempting to withhold a $5-million bonus; this was settled out of court with SCA paying Armstrong and Tailwind Sports $7.5 million to cover the $5-million bonus plus interest and lawyers' fees. Nevertheless, in his testimony Armstrong stated in response to the question, have you ever used any performance-enhancing drugs? "Yes." And then he was asked, what were they? And Armstrong said, "growth hormone, cortisone, EPO, steroids and testosterone." Armstrong suggested that the reporter may have been confused by the possible mention of his post-operative treatment which included steroids and EPO that are taken to counteract wasting and the red-blood-cell-destroying effects of intensive chemotherapy, but this is at odds with the fact that it was necessary for Armstrong to tell the doctor the list of drugs he had taken, and the use of the phrase "performance enhancing." If the drugs were part of the post operative treatment the doctor wouldn't be asking Lance what they were (he'd already know) and he wouldn't be referring to them as "performance enhancing."
In 2006, the Los Angeles Times published a story on the allegations raised in the SCA case. The report cited an analysis of the test results by an expert witness. According to the expert, "the results show Armstrong's (hematocrite) levels rising and falling, consistent with a series of injections during the Tour." The expert told arbitrators the results painted a "compelling picture" that the world's most famous cyclist "used EPO in the '99 Tour." The SCA trial was settled out of court, and the LA Times reported: "Though no verdict or finding of facts was rendered, Armstrong called the outcome proof that the doping allegations were baseless.
So, what do we have? We have the seemingly superhuman feat of seven Tour de France victories in a row after beating cancer. We have the general disbelief that this could even be possible without the use of performance enhancing drugs, along with a myriad of allegations and reports that Armstrong did use PEDs despite the numerous negative drug tests and patent denials. On the other hand, we have the most beneficent cancer surviving philanthropic athlete and model American on the planet filling Armstrong's shoes. This gives us the pesky little issue of no one wanting to believe that Lance isn't super human. Then we have a former Tour winner, a disgruntled Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his title for using PEDs, accusing Armstrong of using PEDs, along with Armstrong's ex wife who is all too willing to cooperate in any investigation into Armstrong's drug use. And, of course, heading the investigation, we have Jeff Novitzky, the virtual Energizer bunny of sports doping witch hunts who has the full resources of the Food and Drug Administration's criminal investigations unit at his disposal and focused on Armstrong. Put it all together and what do we get? Nothing pretty. While BALCO did not spawn anything having to do with Armstrong, it did spawn Novitzky. And, anyone caught in Novitzky's cross hairs is in for a rough ride because it was through Novitzky's tenacity and devious tactics that proved throughout the BALCO case that "I didn't do it" just makes him work harder - that doesn't mean he's gong to work honestly, just with more tenacity. Novitzky has proven he doesn't mind walking right out to the edge and hanging his toes off. Lance, you better sew another jell pad into the crotch of your riding pants, you're going to need it.