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Category: Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong: Federal prosecutors drop investigation

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It appears the latest threat to Lance Armstrong's controversial legacy as one of the era's greatest sportsmen is over.

Federal prosecutors announced Friday that they have dropped their investigation into whether the seven-time Tour de France winner and his former teammates took performance-enhancing drugs.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. announced in a news release that his office was closing its "investigation into allegations of federal criminal conduct by members and associates" of a team partially owned by Armstrong. He also confirmed that no charges will be filed.

Armstrong's lawyer Mark Fabiani described the decision as "great news" in a statement. "Lance is pleased that the United States Attorney made the right decision, and he is more determined than ever to devote his time and energy to Livestrong and to the causes that have defined his career.”

Since winning his first Tour de France in 1999 after nearly dying from testicular cancer, Armstrong has made a side career out of denying every allegation that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Over the last decade, several former teammates and colleagues -- including former teammates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton (both of whom failed drug tests) -- have accused Armstrong of doping. Another former teammate, Frank Andreu, and his wife, Betsy, also say Armstrong used drugs during his career.

“Our legal system failed us,” Betsy Andreu told the Associated Press in regard to the decision. “This is what happens when you have a lot of money and you can buy attorneys who have people in high places in the Department of Justice.”

While the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said the government's decision will not prevent them from continuing their ongoing investigation into allegations Armstrong used drugs, it may be a little too late for Armstrong to repair his reputation as a cyclist following years of allegations from all corners of the cycling world.

But what do you think? Do you think Armstrong cheated or do you think he's the victim of a series of meritless attacks?

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-- Austin Knoblauch

Photo: Lance Armstrong pulls himself up the final ascent to win Stage 15 of the 2003 Tour de France. Credit: Christophe Ena / Associated Press

Tour of California 2012 will finish at L.A. Live

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The 2012 Amgen Tour of California cycling race route was released Thursday and for the second time in three years it will have a stage finish at L.A. Live, this time the final stage.

After hosting the time trial in 2010, L.A. Live will be the end of the 750-mile race on May 20. The first stage on May 13 will begin in Santa Rosa, home of three-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer.  Other highlights of this year's route include a stage start in Sonora and the time trial in Bakersfield.

Stage 6 next year will begin in Palmdale and end at Big Bear Lake, and Stage 7 will have a start in Ontario, a first-time host city for the event, and will include a climb to the top of Mt. Baldy.

Chris Horner, who lives in San Diego, is the defending champion.

The race has been marked for the past two years by news involving seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. In 2010  during the Tour of California the Wall Street Journal first published accusations made by Floyd Landis, where Landis said he witnessed Armstrong using illegal performance-enhancing drugs, and last May another former Armstrong teammate, Tyler Hamilton, was televised on the CBS news program "60 Minutes" making similar accusations against Armstrong, who has been under investigation by a Los Angeles grand jury.

Armstrong, who long has denied such accusations, retired from cycling at the end of the 2010 season.

The 13 host cities for the 2012 Amgen Tour of California include:
•    Stage 1: Sunday, May 13 –- Santa Rosa
•    Stage 2: Monday, May 14 -- San Francisco to Santa Cruz County
•    Stage 3: Tuesday, May 15 -- San Jose to Livermore
•    Stage 4: Wednesday, May 16 -- Sonora to Clovis
•    Stage 5: Thursday, May 17 –- Bakersfield (individual time trial)
•    Stage 6: Friday, May 18 –- Palmdale to Big Bear Lake
•    Stage 7: Saturday, May 19 –- Ontario to Mt. Baldy
•    Stage 8: Sunday, May 20 –- Los Angeles/L.A. Live

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Photo: L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles Times

Lance Armstrong's lawyers demand apology from '60 Minutes'

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Lance Armstrong's lawyers aren't sure whether a "60 Minutes" report linking their client to a positive doping test was "extraordinarily shoddy" or just plain "vicious."

Either way, they want an on-air apology from the TV news program and have demanded one in a letter sent Wednesday to CBS News Chairman and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager.

“In the cold light of morning your story was either extraordinarily shoddy, to the point of being reckless and unprofessional, or a vicious hit-and-run job,” lawyer Elliot Peters wrote. “In either case, a categorical on-air apology is required.”

Peters added that the show ignored evidence from Armstrong's camp prior to the broadcast that the Swiss-related claims were false.

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Failed drug test or not, looks like Alberto Contador can ride Tour de France

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About a two months after Alberto Contador won the 2010 Tour de France -- his third -- the UCI, the international governing body for cycling, announced that Contador had failed a drug test. He had traces of the anabolic agent clenbuterol in his system. Contador, of Spain, has argued ever since that the clenbuterol got into his system because he ate tainted meat.

There seemed to be no gray area. The sport's rules don't allow for accidental ingestion of clenbuterol, but the appeals process has been lengthy and the court of first appeal, the Spanish cycling federation, believed Contador's explanation and cleared the rider.

The UCI rejected the Spanish federation's decision and now Contador's case will be heard in front of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). That hearing was scheduled for this month and would have allowed for a decision before the 2011 Tour de France. But on Monday, WADA postponed the hearing until August.

So it seems Contador will be eligible to defend his Tour de France title, even though he has a failed drug test from his 2010 victory.

Even Contador seemed to have been pessimistic about competing at the Tour de France this year. On Sunday, he completed the grueling three-week Giro d'Italia by winning it. Most serious contenders for the Tour de France don't compete in the Giro or complete it at a high enough level to win.

Contador's predecessor as the dominator of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong, is under a federal investigation for illegal doping during the time he won seven straight Tour titles.

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Photo: Alberto Contador of team Astana celebrates victory on the podium after the final stage of the 2010 Tour de France 2010. Credit: Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

Question of the Day: Whom does the public believe, Lance Armstrong or his detractors? [Updated]

Photo: Lance Armstrong. Credit: Anthony Bolante / Reuters Writers from around Tribune Co. discuss seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, who has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs. Check back throughout the day for more responses, vote in the poll and weigh in with a comment of your own.

Philip Hersh, Chicago Tribune

Lance Armstrong's tweeted defense of "500 drug controls ... Never a failed test.  I rest my case'' is absolutely meaningless, as the case of Marion Jones and the confessions by Tyler Hamilton, Frankie Andreu and many other cyclists have shown.

But as damning as Hamilton's "60 Minutes'' interview was, it still did not provide the piece of evidence -- a document, photo, video or audio -- to "convict'' Lance of doping. That leaves us with the "he said, he said" situation that has existed for several years, even if the amount of circumstantial evidence against Armstrong threatens to crush his reputation -– especially coming from longtime Lance loyalists like Hamilton and George Hincapie, undoubtedly scared straight (unlike Jones) by being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury.  

So much smoke, even without a smoking gun, makes it impossible to believe Armstrong.

Continue reading »

Former cycling chief denies Lance Armstrong doping cover-up

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Former International Cycling Union President Hein Verbruggen said Monday he knew nothing about suspicious drug test results by Lance Armstrong, denying nationally televised allegations by Tyler Hamilton of a cover-up by the UCI.

Hamilton, an Olympic gold medalist and former teammate of Armstrong, said in a "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday night that Armstrong used the blood-boosting hormone EPO to prepare for the 2001 Tour de France, and that Armstrong said the UCI helped him cover up a positive test at the Tour de Suisse, a warm-up event, that year.

"There has never, ever been a cover-up. Not in the Tour de Suisse, not in the Tour de France," Verbruggen said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. "I don't know anything about suspicious tests. I was not aware of that."

In the interview, Hamilton admitted for the first time publicly that he doped throughout his career. He also had plenty to say about Armstrong, including that he saw the seven-time Tour de France champion take performance-enhancing drugs and that Armstrong encouraged other members of the U.S. Postal Service team to take them.

Continue reading »

Philip Hersh: In summing up Lance Armstrong (again), the parts make a discomfiting whole

Lance Armstrong announcing his allegedly definitive retirement has the feeling of a "Dog Bites Man" story.

After all, Armstrong already said before finishing 65th in last month's Tour Down Under in Australia he would no longer race internationally. So it was hardly a surprise when he told the Associated Press early Tuesday that he would no longer race, period.

I guess I have to take Armstrong at his word about the retirement, no matter how hard it is for me to take his word about anything, especially his relentless denials of having used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

My long-held general skepticism about Armstrong was increased six years ago, when I was in France covering the final days of what was to have been his retirement after winning a seventh Tour de France.  He would come back and ride the Tour twice more, finishing third in 2009 and 23rd last year.

Armstrong is, of course, hardly the only athlete to change his mind about quitting: Exhibit A, Michael Jordan, another person with a Nike-magnified gloss whose competitive drive was boundless.

And, yes, I used the word "exhibit," on purpose, since that could be a key term in the next phase of Armstrong's cycling-related life, if a federal grand jury indicts him in a case that would center on whether he doped.

For now though, the issue is whether it is any easier to sum up Armstrong at 39 than it was when he was 33.

Lance1jpg It is tempting simply to cut and paste the 1,750 words I wrote for the final Sunday of what Armstrong said was his final Tour de France in 2005, a Chicago Tribune story headlined, "Lance Armstrong; last step into history.''

Then as now, Armstrong was both the most inspirational while controversial superstar athlete the United States ever produced.

Beginning in 1999, he made the U.S. public think spinning your wheels fast and for days on end was worth paying attention to.

Continue reading »

Lance Armstrong dubs Ben Crane "The Putter"

Earlier this month, when Ben Crane, the defending champion of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines, was warming up for this season in Hawaii, he played a round of golf with another athlete who was preparing for a new season, cyclist Lance Armstrong.

"Lance has become a friend, we have a very close mutual friend," Crane said. "We ended up playing golf together every day for four or five days. It was fun."

Crane said Armstrong isn't a polished golfer, either on the course or in his discussions of the game.

"He doesn't have the golf terminology," Crane said. "We got to like the second hole we played together and I made a 10-footer and he looks at me and says, 'You're a putter, right?' And I kind of looked at my friend and I go, 'You're a what?' He goes, 'You're a putter, right?'

"And I look at my friend and I go, yeah, I guess actually that's what I am. He goes, 'That's your thing. That's the thing you do, right?' And I said, 'Yeah, that's a good way of looking at it.' He's so funny. He doesn't have the golf lingo. It was like a 3-year-old kid."

Crane said that Armstrong didn't appear overly worried about an ongoing federal grand jury investigation that seems to be targeting doping in cycling and possibly Armstrong.

"It's just become a way of life for him," Crane said. "I know it's something of concern but he certainly feels like he's in a good position. He's never tested positive for anything. He sure didn't seem like he had a lot of concern about it. He was pretty focused on training and hanging out with his family and playing a little bit of golf."

-- Diane Pucin, reporting from La Jolla

Question of the Day: Will the latest allegations against Lance Armstrong hurt his image? [Updated]

Armstrong_400 Writers from around the Tribune Co. weigh in on the topic. Check back throughout the day for more responses and feel free to leave a comment of your own.

Philip Hersh, Chicago Tribune

Sports Illustrated added more smoke to the doping cloud around Lance Armstrong this week, so will everyone now see the fire? Unlikely.

The magazine’s addition to the overwhelming amount of circumstantial and "he-said, she-said" evidence that strongly suggests Armstrong used PEDs still is unlikely to sound an alarm among the general public. Even a grand jury indictment may not be enough to do that unless it produces a conviction. And the Armstrong acolytes, swayed by his important contributions to the cancer community, never will feel their man has done them wrong.

Bottom line: This has gone on so long that even if a court says Armstrong doped –- and I certainly believe he did –- most people in a society that seeks pharmacological help for everything may shrug their shoulders and wonder what the fuss is about.

Nick Mathews, Newport News (Va.) Daily Press

The answer to the question is an unequivocal yes, no matter if they are proven true or if Armstrong admits guilt.

Exhibit A, Barry Bonds. The former San Francisco Giants star owns the most cherished record in America’s pastime. Yet, few remember his career fondly. Bonds has not admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, but the evidence is mounted as high as the Alps.

The same is said for Armstrong, who conquered those mountains to win seven Tour de France titles. Said Union Cycliste Internationale President Pat McQuaid this week: “[Cycling] is bigger than Lance Armstrong.” True, but he is the most famous cyclist in the world -- and the only professional cyclist 99.9% of Americans know by name.

The damage of these allegations do more than tarnish Lance's legacy; they cut to the bone the image of a sport that finally was gaining ground in the United States.

[Updated at 10:32 a.m.:

Gary R. Blockus, The Morning Call
Lance Armstrong is the Teflon man. Nothing sticks to him. He’s beaten testicular cancer to win seven Tour de France titles. He’s beaten all doping allegations so far and has never tested positive.

Divorce your wife? No big deal. Leave Sheryl Crow while she’s battling breast cancer? No big deal. Have other cyclists accuse you and cite similar stories of being in a hotel room during a premier race watching him make Floyd Landis cry by pouring his bag of blood or blood products down a toilet. Hah, just stories without any physical evidence.

If Alberto Contador hasn’t faced sanctions yet by claiming he ate “tainted beef,” then Armstrong will never be touched beyond the occasional allegation.

Lance Armstrong isn’t a person, he’s a multi-million dollar business and has a PR machine and a cadre of lawyers ready to take down anyone who opposes the maillot jaune. Hurt his image? One word: Livestrong.]

[Updated at 11:19 a.m.:

Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times

For nearly his entire cycling career there has been a segment of fans who have doubted Lance Armstrong’s assertion that he hasn’t doped. There’s another segment who vehemently point to the fact that Armstrong has never failed a drug test.

Unless Armstrong is convicted of a crime, most of those in the second segment will remain faithful in their belief of Armstrong and maybe they’ll stay strong even if the seven-time Tour de France winner is convicted of a doping crime. They will say that the good he’s done in raising money for cancer will outweigh any doping lies he might have told.

If Armstrong is indicted and has a trial, even if he never gets convicted, Armstrong will lose something though. Maybe it will be just a little chunk of his reputation. “Well, yeah, OK, he doped,” some might say. “So did most of the guys he beat plus, he’s got the charity.”

Or maybe a larger chunk will be lost. “He doped, he cheated, who cares what anyone else did. He’s a fraud.”

And since Armstrong is almost 40 and pretty much done with cycling, unlike, say, Tiger Woods, Armstrong won’t be able to regain his reputation on the sporting field by winning something. All that’s left for him is to keep losing.]

Check out a video take on the situation here.

Photo: Lance Armstrong. Credit: Nathalie Magniez / AFP/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong isn't done with bicycle racing yet

Lance Armstrong will race in the Santos Tour Down Under, the first major international cycling event of the 2011 season, Jan. 16-23, according to a press release from race organizers sent Saturday evening.

When Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, came out of retirement in 2009, the first race he committed to was the Tour Down Under, which is raced in and around Adelaide in South Australia. Armstrong and South Australia premier Mike Rann have a good relationship and Armstrong received strong fan support in 2009 and 2010.

Since May, though, Armstrong has appeared to be the focus of a federal grand jury investigation into possible doping in cycling. Several former associates and teammates of Armstrong when he raced for the United States Postal Service team have testified in front of a grand jury in Los Angeles.

After this pastsummer's Tour de France, Armstrong said he would not race on European soil again, and in the press release Rann said, "This is an amazing opportunity for cycling fans across the globe to head to Adelaide and be part of history as Lance competes in his farewell ride as a professional on international soil."

Armstrong said in the release: "I'm excited to be competing in my last professional ride outside the U.S. at the Santos Tour Down Under. It will be my third time to the event and I'm sure I will enjoy it as much as I have the first two times."

Interesting that in both quotes the point was made that the January event would be Armstrong's last international race. That seems to leave open the possibility of another race in the United States, the biggest of which is the Amgen Tour of California.

-- Diane Pucin

 

 

Versus to live-stream Tuesday's announcement of 2011 Tour de France route

Tour_200 It is always a major production when the new Tour de France route is announced. It's scheduled to happen Tuesday, and this year the Versus network is offering free live-streaming video of the news conference from France. The coverage will begin at 2:30 a.m. PDT, and after the announcement, at 8 a.m. PDT, Versus will host a live chat with analyst Bob Roll and Garmin-Transitions cyclist Christian Vande Velde to analyze the route.

There has been plenty of speculation on what the next Tour might look like, including a theory that cyclists will twice climb the signature l'Alpe d'Huez with its signature 21 switchbacks.

Usually on hand for the announcement are team managers as well as the defending champion and key riders from most teams. The 2010 defending champion Alberto Contador, however, has said he will not attend unless the international cycling federation, UCI, has concluded its investigation into his failed doping test from the 2010 race.

A Contador sample failed a test for the substance clenbuterol. It has been reported as well that tests detected the presence of plasticizer, a component of bags used in blood transfusions. Although there is not an official World Anti-Doping Agency test for plasticizers in use, WADA has wide latitude in putting together doping cases based on several types of evidence.

This will be the first time since 2008 that Lance Armstrong won't be in the race. After last summer, he retired for a second time when he was unable to contend after a series of first-week crashes. He is still a member of the Radio Shack team that will be represented at the announcement by director Johan Bruyneel, who has come out in support of Contador and the Spaniard's contention that he ingested clenbuterol through contaminated meat. Several associates of Armstrong have been questioned by or turned over documents to federal prosecutors who are conducting a grand jury investigation into cycling.

-- Diane Pucin

Image from www.letour.fr

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