Everyone is passing around the cover of tomorrow’s Sports Illustrated, due to the amazing photo of Tom Brady getting crushed by the Jets’ Calvin Pace, but the cover is a classic example of burying the lede.
Lance Armstrong is in trouble.
The issue, which comes out Wednesday morning, contains an article by David Epstein and Selena Roberts (the author whose book exposed Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use) that digs deep into the case against Armstrong.
A grand jury is currently trying to determine if Armstrong used blood doping to help win his seven consecutive Tour de France races, and like all the previous major steroid investigations involving the U.S. government, this one is leaking like a sieve.
The grand jury is being run by Jeff Novitsky, the FDA investigator whose BALCO investigations led to jail time for Olympic sprinter Marion Jones and a perjury charge against Barry Bonds. It was his investigation of MLB that eventually led to the results of confidential 2003 drug tests becoming public.
The article, which should appear in full online tomorrow, includes a lot of circumstantial evidence tying Armstrong to blood doping activities. Among the charges:
- In the late 1990s, Armstrong, gained access to an experimental drug shown to boost the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity
- Former teammate Floyd Landis recalls when Armstrong’s bag was searched by Swiss customs agents who found “syringes and drugs with labels written in Spanish.” Armstrong “asked a member of his contingent to convince the agents that the drugs were vitamins” and they were allowed to pass.
- An Italian police investigation of another former Armstrong teammate, Yarolslav Popovych, linked Armstrong’s team to a controversial Italian doctor in 2009, even though Armstrong had said he cut ties with the doctor in 2004
- In 1999, drug test results revealed high testosterone-epitestosterone ratios for a cyclist identified only by his drug-testing code numbers. An SI source “with knowledge of the test says that the cyclist was Armstrong.”
- Stephen Swart, a New Zealander who rode with Armstrong on the Motorola squad in 1995, says that Armstrong was the one who pushed the team to begin using EPO, a common blood doping drug.
None of these claims seem to prove beyond a doubt that Armstrong was cheating, but given Floyd Landis’ earlier claims and the notoriously shady word of top level cycling, it seems clear that a strong case is mounting against Armstrong. He steadfastly denies all the charges in SI‘s story, as he has denied all doping accusations made against him.
But so have a lot of other athletes who either turned out to be lying or were so tainted by the charges that their careers and reputations were damaged beyond repair. Barry Bonds has yet to be convicted of anything, but everyone simply takes it for granted that he was a PED user.
Armstrong has made a powerful enemy in Novitsky. He has even more enemies the cycling world, and they are no longer afraid to talk. (Or are actively looking to talk to save their own skins.) Because the US Postal Service was Armstrong’s main sponsor during the glory days of his career, proof of drug use could open him up to charges of fraudulent use of government funds.
(Selena Roberts says if indictments do come down, they could happen shortly after the Super Bowl in February.)
But the important part is that he’s already been smeared with the accusations. As the evidence mounts, it will be nearly impossible for him to disprove and even harder for him to get back his reputation. True or not true, Lance Armstrong is in for a nasty fight.
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