Speaking to reporters in depth for the first time at this Tour de France about swirling accusations leveled by Floyd Landis, Lance Armstrong on Wednesday flatly denied being involved in systematic doping at the former U.S. Postal Service team for which both men rode.
“As long as I live, I will deny that,” he said before the start of stage 10. “There is absolutely no way I forced people, encouraged people, told people, helped people, facilitated… Absolutely not. One hundred percent.”
The New York Times reported Tuesday that federal investigators issued subpoenas to riders to appear before a grand jury regarding allegations of doping on the Postal team. No names have been revealed, and Armstrong said Wednesday he had not been subpoenaed nor contacted by Jeff Novitzky, an investigator for the Food & Drug Administration who is pursuing Landis’ claims. The New York Daily News on Wednesday reported that team sponsor Trek Bicycle received a subpoena.
As for what other USPS riders may or may not have done, Armstrong said that was beyond his control.
“I can’t speak to what they did themselves,” he said to reporters outside the RadioShack team bus. “I can’t control that. It would be like me asking you, do you think there is any abuse of performance enhancing drugs in the NFL in the offensive line? Most people would say probably yes. But does that mean that (NFL quarterback) Peyton Manning is guilty? I mean, I can’t control what other riders do. I really can’t.”
He also said he did not believe any former USPS rider would corroborate Landis’ claims that Armstrong doped while on the team, and along with team director Johan Bruyneel, taught Landis how to dope. Bruyneel also denied Landis’ claims when they first surfaced in May at the Amgen Tour of California.
Armstrong made a point of clarifying his role regarding ownership of the USPS team.
“When the Postal Service was the sponsor of the team, I was a rider on the team,” Armstrong said. “Just like Frankie (Andreu), Kevin (Livingston), Tyler (Hamilton) or George (Hincapie). I was no different than anybody else.”
Investment executive and longtime cycling supporter Thomas Weisel founded Tailwind Sports, which ran the USPS team. Weisel declined to be interviewed by VeloNews.
“I was a rider on the team that was contracted through Tailwind Sports. I never had any dealings – any dealings – with the U.S. Postal Service. Zero,” said Armstrong. “I didn’t own the company. I didn’t have a position. I didn’t have an equity stake. I didn’t have a seat on the board. I was a rider on the team. I can’t be any clearer than that.”
However Armstrong did at some point come to have a stake in Tailwind Sports. In a transcript of the 2005 arbitration, SCA Promotions VS. Lance Armstrong and Tailwind Sports, Armstrong is quoted as saying he had a small ownership interest in Tailwind Sports — “perhaps 10 percent.” Armstrong said in the transcript that he didn’t remember when this interest began, whether it was in 2005 — when Discovery Channel was the title sponsor — or before.
Tailwind’s management continued through the time when the U.S. Postal Service announced it would not continue sponsorship of the team after the 2004 season. Capital Sports & Entertainment, of which Armstrong is a partner, took over management of the squad, and contracted with Discovery Channel for title sponsorship of the team beginning in 2005. Many riders stayed through the transition, as did Bruyneel as director. However there was some overlap, as CSE claims on its Web site that it worked with the U.S. Postal Service as a sponsor of the team. And the official media guide for the 2007 Discovery Channel team said that Tailwind owned and operated the team in partnership with CSE. Referring to CSE, Armstrong said “we took over running the team in ’04, but we did not have any equity until ’07.”
Asked how the investigation was affecting him, Armstrong replied: “There’s nothing I can do about that.”
“I think we have to be respectful of the process,” he said. “You hope that … both sides are respectful. Is it honorable and ethical and legitimate to be leaking things to the press and trying to push an agenda? Some would say no. Do the American people feel like this is a good use of their tax dollars? That’s for them to decide. But as long as we have a legitimate and credible and fair investigation, we will be happy to cooperate. But I’m not going to cooperate in any kind of witch hunt. I’ve done too many good things for too many people.”
Armstrong said his name kept coming up because of the intentions of the media.
“The press is pushing an agenda here,” he said. “Look at the SI (Sports Illustrated) article in the beginning (May). ‘Lance Armstrong owned 50 percent of the (USPS) team and he defrauded the U.S. government.’ That is so fundamentally untrue and false.”