Thu Aug 05 01:20pm EDT
According to a former teammate, Lance Armstrong was aware of and encouraging a systematic doping program involving his former United States Postal cycling team.
Federal investigators recently stepped up a criminal investigation of the seven-time Tour de France champion and have received detailed claims from cyclists and former Armstrong associates backing up the story of disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis, who previously accused Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that a former Armstrong teammate spoke with investigators about the "widespread cheating" that went on within the team, all of which happened with Armstrong's full knowledge. The report makes no mention of drug use by Armstrong.
Food and Drug Administration investigators have been interviewing those close to Armstrong in an attempt to determine if he and his teammates defrauded sponsors by cheating. Some have already spoken with investigators and others are expected to testify in front of a grand jury within the next week. A 10-year statute of limitations may soon expire in the case, a fact which reportedly led to the increased efforts of investigators in recent months.
The lead investigator in the case is Jeff Novitzky, who headed up the FDA's probe of Barry Bonds and BALCO. Insiders say Novitzky isn't as concerned about whether Armstrong cheated at cycling but whether he broke laws (tax evastion, fraud, importing drugs) in doing so. Other athletes investigated by Novitzky have faced the most legal trouble for lying to grand juries and obstruction of justice.
[Photos: Latest images of Lance Armstrong]
If it's determined Armstrong was doping, he could have his Tour de France titles stripped. The bigger stake, however, is his legacy. He's known worldwide as the man who defeated cancer and then become the most dominant athlete his sport had ever seen. Based on his story, Armstrong was able to raise millions for cancer research. He's perhaps the most famous survivor and fundraiser the disease has ever seen. Should these drug-use allegations prove true, the ramifications could be much larger than having to return a few trophies.