Beyond the Peloton

July 12, 2010 12:13 PM

Lance's Next Battle: The Feds?

There is not one cyclist who is more alone and without friends than Floyd Landis now. After his initial barrage of accusations during the Tour of California that created a sensation, Landis kept it up with another salvo, this time on the eve of the 2010 Tour de France.

landis.jpgAnd the reaction from the cycling organizations to the riders? From anger to a mere shrug.

The bottom line: Cycling is a close-knit community and Landis, in the view of nearly everyone, crossed the line by not only openly airing the dirty laundry, but sabotaging two important races, including the most prestigious of them all.

Landis' tell-all in the Wall Street Journal offered surprisingly few new details. At this point, about the only reason that Landis is still relevant is that the Feds are opening an investigation, nominally assisted by WADA. The much ballyhooed Jeff Novitzky, of BALCO fame, is heading up the FDA's probe.

So just how worried should Lance Armstrong be, since he's front and center in almost all of Landis' allegations and accusations?

In Novitzky, he's certainly going up a well-known investigator. But the fact is that Novitzky, even with the powers of the federal government on his side, has never gone up against as formidable a foe as Lance Armstrong.

Sure, Novitzky may have nailed BALCO founder Victor Conte and sent Marion Jones to jail, but his record is at best a mixed bag. He was never able to pin down Barry Bonds, despite seemingly a mountain of circumstantial evidence and questionable testimonies.

president_george_bush_and_2005_tour_de_france_winner_lance_armstrong_take_a_ride_together.jpgArmstrong isn't just any athlete. He's a certifiable celebrity and power player with connections all the way to the White House and Elysees Palace. What cyclist has ridden with the president of the United States (see photo) and dined with Nicolas Sarkozy? The French and various cycling organizations have tried to catch him for years and so far no one has come up with the goods - and they had time and home-field advantage on their side.

More to the point, if they couldn't nail Lance red-handed while he was racing and training in France, how is Novitzky going to get him for stuff that happened six, seven years ago, way outside of his jurisdiction (France and Spain), with subpoena powers limited to U.S. cyclists who may or may not be the most reliable witnesses?

In addition, Armstrong also has a legal machine built from years of fending off accusations and defamation. Bonds, Jones and Conte are piddly minor leaguers when it comes to lawyering up. It probably wouldn't be difficult for Armstrong's legal team to build a defense. After all, Novitzky likely won't have much more of a case than he said vs. he said - unless he can dig up a bag of blood or needles and other doping paraphernalia, completely unadulterated half a decade later.

Novitzky probably already has a good idea how vigorous a defense Armstrong will put up should he decide to go there. Within hours of the WSJ article going online, Lance's lawyers had this up on his web site:

"The more appropriate investigation and use of taxpayer money would focus on the confessed fraud committed by Landis, an admitted perjurer with an agenda. These kind of leaks, and the stories based on them, are inaccurate, are extraordinarily unfair, and are used for publicity and advancing personal agendas. Leaks and stories like this fundamentally undermine our justice system."

Armstrong might've lost this year's Tour. But he has no intention of losing another battle, one that he has mastered during his winning seven consecutive Tours de France - defending his reputation, and empire.

Stage 9 Preview (Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne)

After Stage 8's fireworks that eliminated Armstrong, it's unlikely that the GC contenders will try to duke it out here, especially with a 30 km downhill finish and four more days of hard riding in the Pyrenees still ahead. More likely, a breakaway involving riders who are going after the polka dot jersey may succeed, as long as none of them is viewed as a threat for a high finish in the GC.

Prediction: Thomas Voekler. He's worn the yellow in 2004 and won a stage in last year's race. He may save his attack for Bastille Day a day later, but this stage is more suited for him. Cadel Evans will keep the yellow until we're in the Pyrenees. 

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