JIM VERTUNO,AP Sports Writer, AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Lance Armstrong’s attorneys say the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is offering cyclists a “sweetheart deal” if they testify or provide evidence that the seven-time Tour de France winner cheated by doping.
If those riders have been caught doping, the deal from USADA could result in a reduced ban from competition and other incentives, attorney Tim Herman told The Associated Press on Monday.
Federal investigators in Los Angeles are looking at cheating in professional cycling and have shown interest in Armstrong since former teammate and 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis alleged this spring that Armstrong and others took performance-enhancing drugs, which Armstrong strongly denies.
In 2007, Landis said USADA offered him a similar deal to finger Armstrong. At the time, Landis called the offer “offensive” and did not provide evidence against Armstrong.
USADA spokeswoman Erin Hannan said the agency could not comment in detail about an investigation.
“Our effort in any investigation is a search for the truth, nothing more and nothing less,” Hannan said. “On behalf of clean athletes, we will fairly and thoroughly evaluate all evidence of doping to reveal the truth. When the process results in credible evidence of doping, clean athletes can rest assured we will take appropriate action under the rules established by federal law.”
USADA has a history of reducing penalties for athletes who provide evidence of doping violations by other athletes, but asking for information about specific athletes is not allowed under the agency’s rules.
Armstrong’s attorneys say USADA’s current offer is for riders to talk to federal investigator Jeff Novitzky, who could then give the information to USADA. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Presumably, the alleged deal would only be worthwhile for riders who are still competing or young enough to return to competition if a ban was lifted.
“USADA is promising riders a sweetheart deal if they can produce anything harmful on Armstrong,” Herman said. “A rider who has doped, they tell them, ‘If you can finger Armstrong, we’ll get out the eraser … and everything is cool.'”
Herman said he could not disclose which rider or riders have been offered a deal.
Landis implicated at least 16 other people in various doping acts, including longtime Armstrong confidant George Hincapie, Armstrong’s current Team Radioshack teammate Levi Leipheimer and another elite American rider, Dave Zabriskie.
Tyler Hamilton, who rode in support of Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service team in 1999 and 2000 reportedly has been subpoenaed.
Hamilton won the 2004 Olympic gold medal in the time trial in Athens, but failed a test for blood doping afterward and eventually served a two-year suspension.
Hamilton returned to racing and won the 2008 U.S. road championship, but retired last spring after admitting that he took an antidepressant that contained the banned steroid DHEA. He was officially banned from cycling for eight years.
In 2007, Landis said USADA general counsel Travis Tygart approached his attorney shortly after learning of Landis’ positive doping test during the Tour.
Herman questioned whether USADA could legally offer such an incentive for testimony.
In a 2007 letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which contracted with USADA, Herman claimed that, as a private entity, USADA’s deal offer is similar to bribery.
Herman said Monday he would raise the some concern with federal investigators.
At USADA, Hannan said the agency considers all athletes “innocent until and unless proven otherwise through the established legal process. Attempts to sensationalize or exploit either the process or the athletes are a disservice to fair play, due process, and to those who love clean sport.”