To many, disgraced Tour de France champion Floyd Landis dipped to a new low last week when, after years of lying, he admitted to systematic doping.
Claiming a need to clear his conscience Landis went a significant stage further, however, by alleging that seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and other former teammates had also been drugs cheats.
Just over a month before July’s Tour de France, perhaps Armstrong’s last in his successful but controversial career, it appears timing — a crucial factor for Landis as he charged, Eddy Merckx style, towards eventual yellow jersey victory on stage 17 of the 2006 race — is not Landis’s biggest concern.
Race officials have yet to react to the claims, which have been labelled “sad” and “grudge motivated” by the International Cycling Union (UCI).
However the possibility of missing the 2010 edition could be the least of Armstrong’s problems, if federal investigators decide it is finally time to lay years of damaging allegations to rest.
According to reports Landis has been cooperating with an investigation led by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) special agent Jeff Novitzky, who as an investigator hit new heights in 2002 when he led the probe into the BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative) which produced and supplied designer drugs for Major League Baseball players and athletes.
It led to one-time athletics sprint queen Marion Jones serving a prison sentence after admitting she had perjured herself during the probe.
Having previously sidestepped damaging allegations from Frankie Andreu, a former teammate, and Emma O’Reilly, his former masseuse, Armstrong may now face a challenge far tougher than any Tour de France.
The 38-year-old American credited with the greatest sporting comeback of all time — after successfully battling testicular cancer in 1998 — was quick to discredit his latest accuser.
“Floyd lost his credibility a long time ago,” said Armstrong. “We have nothing to hide. We have nothing to run from.”
Landis, however, is just the latest in a series of former Armstrong friends to turn foe. And reports suggest others may substantiate Landis’s claims, if he, or Novitsky, manages to convince them to testify.
In a 2004 French-language book by Pierre Ballester and David Walsh, LA Confidential – Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong — Armstrong’s former masseuse O’Reilly claimed Armstrong once asked her to dispose of used syringes and to give him make-up to conceal needle marks in his arms.
Some of those allegations were re-printed in the Sunday Times, leading Armstrong to sue the newspaper for libel and procuring an out-of-court settlement.
Two years later Andreu and his wife Betsy claimed during a court hearing that Armstrong had admitted to doctors treating him for cancer to having previously used EPO, growth hormone and cortisone — all banned substances — during his career.
Armstrong disputed those claims and, once again, they became circumstantial evidence which carried no legal weight.
Armstrong did raise eyebrows by admitting, in 2001, his collaboration with Michele Ferrari, an Italian doctor with a reputation for improving cyclists’ performances through unscrupulous methods.
‘Cycling’s worst kept secret’
Ferrari’s reputation was cycling’s worst kept secret, and he once declared: “EPO is not dangerous, it’s the abuse that is. It’s also dangerous to drink ten litres of orange juice.”
A later court case, on which most of the evidence against Ferrari was provided by Italian rider Filippo Simeoni, found Ferrari guilty of sporting fraud — a judgement that was later quashed on appeal.
Having admitted to doping since 1993, one of Simeoni’s motives was “to break the omerta [code of secrecy] in the hope that it can help to fight the problem of doping which involves cycling and sport in general.”
Subsequently, Simeoni endured the wrath of an angry Armstrong who chased down the Italian as he tried to join a breakaway during the 2004 Tour de France.
This time, there is no Landis to chase down. And the American said he still has “many, many more details” in diaries.
However key to whether they will be pursued will be the determination of the US anti-doping agency, who issued a statement from CEO Travis T. Tygart.
“Our duty is to fairly and thoroughly pursue any and all reliable evidence of doping to reveal the truth and to ensure honest and fair athletic competition worldwide for both fans and athletes.
“In circumstances where the process results in credible evidence of doping, USADA will follow its mandate to protect clean athletes and the integrity of sport by taking appropriate action under the rules established by federal law.” — AFP