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UPDATED: Feds drop Armstrong investigation, USADA continues inquiry

Federal prosecutors have closed the investigation of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong without filing charges

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The Associated Press reported Friday afternoon that federal prosecutors have closed the investigation of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong without filing charges. The investigation, headed by federal agent Jeff Novitzky, focused on alleged performance enhancing drug use by Armstrong and his former U.S. Postal Service teammates in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

According to AP, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. said in a press release that his office was closing the investigation, but did not disclose the reason.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygert said in a statement that his organization would pursue documents from the investigation.

“Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws,” said Tygart. “Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.”

The Armstrong investigation grew out of two seemingly unrelated events: the reported discovery of PED’s in the apartment of former Rock Racing rider Kayle Leogrande and the accusations made by former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis regarding systematic doping at U.S. Postal during the 2010 Amgen Tour of California. In his interviews with the Wall Street Journal and ESPN, Landis accused Armstrong of masterminding organized doping during his reign atop the sport’s most prestigious event.

As he has done for more than a decade, Armstrong fought the accusations in the press. Meanwhile, Novitzky built a case quietly over the summer of 2010. A Los Angeles grand jury subsequently subpoenaed a number of Armstrong associates, including teammates Frankie Andreu and Tyler Hamilton, physiologist Dr. Allen Lim and Oakley’s Stephanie McIlvain.

In August 2010, Armstrong hired a powerful team of attorneys and strategists, including former White House special counsel Mark Fabiani and former assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Daly.

The story remained in the news as leaks emerged from the investigation and Novitzky led a group of agents on a discovery mission to Europe in late 2010, meeting with French anti-doping lab directors at Interpol headquarters in Lyon. Sports Illustrated published new details of the investigation in January 2011, but Novitzky was dealt a blow in April when his high-profile investigation of Major League Baseball homerun king Barry Bonds ended with a mistrial on steroids-related charges.

The storm built, however, and Hamilton appeared on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” just after the finale of the Tour of California in May, corroborating Landis’ accusations. The program also reported that former teammate George Hincapie had testified to the grand jury that Armstrong had used PED’s, a claim Hincapie did not dismiss, though he did say that he had never spoken with “60 Minutes” staff.

Armstrong called for a probe of leaks in the investigation in July 2011 and the case went quiet. In court documents, Armstrong’s team claimed that, “The leaker in this case has, from the beginning, acted with the obvious intent of legitimizing the government’s investigation of a national hero, best known for his role in the fight against cancer… Each leak has been designed to propagate public support for this investigation by smearing Armstrong and tarnishing his reputation. The tactical nature of these leaks cannot be ignored as it strongly suggests an underlying partisanship inherent in government agents.”

With the grand jury set to expire, anticipation has built over the outcome and Friday’s announcement closes the almost-two-year-old investigation of the most popular — and controversial — figure in modern cycling.

“This is great news,” said Fabiani said in a statement. “Lance is pleased that the United States Attorney made the right decision, and he is more determined than ever to devote his time and energy to Livestrong and to the causes that have defined his career.”

Armstrong himself said “I am gratified to learn that the U.S. Attorney’s office is closing its investigation. It is the right decision and I commend them for reaching it. I look forward to continuing my life as a father, a competitor, and an advocate in the fight against cancer without this distraction.”

Longtime Armstrong detractor — and wife of former Motorola/U.S. Postal rider Frankie Andreu — Betsy Andreu was disappointed by the decision.

“Our legal system failed us,” she told the Associated Press. “This is what happens when you have a lot of money and you can buy attorneys who have people in high places in the Department of Justice.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.