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Armstrong unlikely to face new criminal inquiry

Sports law attorney Michael McCann says embattled Tour champ unlikely to face federal charges in the wake of USADA's allegations

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Lance Armstrong could be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles but won’t likely face criminal charges or fines in a probe of new doping allegations, a sports law professor said Thursday.

The Washington Post broke the story on Wednesday that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had written to Armstrong and others, saying blood samples taken from him in 2009 and 2010 — after he came out of retirement — were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”

“All of his Tour de France victories would be at stake, he could lose them. However he’s not in any danger of being charged criminally or having to pay any fines, based on what we know,” University of Vermont sports law professor Michael McCann told AFP.

McCann is the director of the university’s Sports Law Institute and is a columnist for SportsIllustrated.com.

“This is more about a case that goes to his reputation rather than any type of criminal wrongdoing,” McCann said in an interview.

McCann noted that USADA, which is investigating Armstrong, “doesn’t have the power of indictment.”

And, he said, the U.S. Department of Justice is unlikely to reopen its two-year probe that ended in February without any criminal charges being brought. “I think that moment passed.”

Armstrong finished third in the Tour de France in June of 2009 and 23rd in the event in 2010.

Since retiring again from cycling last year, Armstrong has taken up triathlon competition, but the World Triathlon Corporation, with whom Armstrong was contracted to take part in six events, barred him from competition on Wednesday, pending the outcome of the investigation.

In the 15-page letter, USADA claims it has witnesses to the fact that Armstrong and five former cycling team associates — including Italian doctor Michele Ferrari and team manager Johan Bruyneel — engaged in a doping conspiracy from 1998-2011.

Armstrong, however, said the witnesses cited by USADA were the same ones who spoke to federal investigators previously.

McCann said USADA was pressed to launch its investigation now because “the statute of limitations was going to run out for the US Anti-Doping Agency to try to punish him (Armstrong).”

“That’s why it’s happening now,” he said. Armed with new information, USADA also probably “feels that its case is the strongest right now.”

Armstrong, who won the Tour de France from 1999-2005 and used his fame to fuel his charitable work for cancer awareness, has never been sanctioned for a positive doping control.

But he has been publicly accused by former teammates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton — both admitted drugs cheats — of doping.