Lance Armstrong accused anti-doping officials of pursuing a “personal vendetta” against him, citing a report that several of his accusers have cut a deal that allows them to finish the racing season before facing suspension for their admitted doping.
In a telephone interview with The Daily Beast on Thursday, the seven-time Tour de France champion said the reported deal with his former teammates underscores the flimsiness of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency allegations against him.
“They’ve got no physical evidence, no lab work, no positive tests,” said Armstrong, who has steadfastly denied using performance-enhancing drugs. “They can go out and coerce testimony, and that’s all they need with the burden of proof so low.”
Singling out Travis Tygart, the agency’s chief executive, Armstrong accused him of pursuing a process that others would view as “not normal.”
“They just keep moving the goalposts,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for me, because I’m in the middle of it, but it’s unfortunate for all athletes…If I can’t face my accusers, that’s a joke. We did that in medieval times.”
A Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf, cited “well-informed sources” in reporting that five cyclists—Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie, and Christian Vande Velde—received the suspensions after acknowledging they had engaged in doping and agreeing to testify against Armstrong. Under the reported arrangement, the five, and perhaps others, would be able to compete in this year’s Tour de France and potentially another major competition before the season ends. The New York Times later confirmed the report.
Armstrong assailed “the deal that Tygart allegedly struck here.” But for the accusers, he said in the interview, “it’s a deal too good to turn down. I don’t fault these guys. They were taken advantage of.”
The cyclists were among the witnesses in a federal investigation of Armstrong that prosecutors closed in February without bringing charges. At least three of these cyclists will be witnesses for the Anti-Doping Agency, which filed a case against Armstrong last month.
Most of the riders either declined to comment on the reported deal or could not be reached by news outlets. They are members of the Garmin-Sharp team, which said in a statement that “media reports of suspensions are untrue.” Vaughters also called the report false, according to the Associated Press.
If the delayed suspensions in fact take place, the arrangement would raise credibility questions about the riders who managed to salvage their own seasons while turning on their famous former teammate.
The allegations against Armstrong date back more than a decade and have never been proven. But the stakes could hardly be higher, since the agency could strip him of the Tour de France titles he won between 1999 and 2005.
Armstrong accused Tygart and his agency of “trying to rob someone of their legacy, to rob someone of their career, to rob someone of their life in many instances.” He called the probe a “Star Chamber” proceeding.
“It’s a bum’s rush,” Armstrong told The Daily Beast. “I’m just sick and tired of it.”
Armstrong’s team has until Monday to formally respond to the agency and has not ruled out the possibility of legal action. If he simply decides to appeal, the case would go to an arbitration panel.
The champion cyclist has declined to appear before the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based agency. His Washington attorney, Robert Luskin, wrote the agency’s general counsel last month that the probe was a “lynching” and that “you are not in fact interested in his testimony but in his confession; and that anything short of an admission of persistent drug use would not be deemed ‘truthful.’” Luskin also charged that Tygart “offered inducements to witnesses to furnish damaging testimony against Lance in the criminal case.”
Armstrong professed to be baffled about why anti-doping authorities are still pursuing a retired athlete who has no plans to resume competitive racing.
“What they need,” he said, “is a high-profile case: ‘Look, here’s Lance Armstrong’s head mounted for you.’”