Retired cycling champ Lance Armstrong filed a federal lawsuit on Monday seeking to stop the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency from proceeding with a case that charges him with taking performance-enhancing drugs.Armstrong faces a Saturday deadline to either challenge the charges or accept sanctions that could strip him of his seven Tour de France titles and ban him from the sport for life if he is found guilty. His attorneys also sought a temporary restraining order to halt the process.
The USADA is a quasi-governmental agency created by Congress in 2000 and charges would be considered by its own arbitration process. Any penalties would be binding within the sport, but federal courts have the power to overrule the agency.
Lawyers for Armstrong contend that the USADA gathered evidence by threatening to ruin the careers of fellow cyclists who have agreed to testify against him. Lawyers for Armstrong also argue that the agency’s rules violate Armstrong’s right to a fair trial and that it lacks proper jurisdiction to charge him.
The legal action, filed in Armstrong’s Austin, Texas, hometown, claims the agency’s investigation is causing “irreparable” damage to the champion cyclist, who won seven straight Tour de France championships between 1999 and 2005.
In a statement issued Monday, the USADA said Armstrong’s lawsuit is “without merit” and that USADA rules “provide full constitutional due process… designed to protect the rights of clean athletes and the integrity of the sport.”
Accusations of doping have dogged Armstrong since he ascended to the top of the cycling world after overcoming cancer. In February, the U.S. Justice Department dropped an investigation centered on whether Armstrong and his teammates cheated the sponsor of their bike racing team, the U.S. Postal Service, with a secret doping program.
Last month, the USADA formally charged Armstrong with doping and taking part in a conspiracy with members of his championship teams. Five other cyclists have been accused of conspiring with Armstrong over the course of 14 years to hide doping activity.
The agency said in a letter to Armstrong that it has blood samples from 2009 and 2010 that are “fully consistent” with doping. In the letter, which was published in the Washington Post, the agency said it also has at least 10 former teammates and colleagues of Armstrong that will testify that he used doping drugs during races from 1999 to 2005.
Armstrong’s attorneys contend that he has “passed every drug test ever administered to him in his career – a total of 500 to 600 tests… more drug tests than any athlete in history.”
They say the International Cycling Union has proper jurisdiction in the case.
(Reporting By Chris Francescani in New York; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Osterman)
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