(Update: Dec. 12, 2005 — Armstrong to stand trial in Italy)
The peloton chasing Lance Armstrong in the past year is just as likely to comprise court process servers as bicycle racers.
Armstrong's rise to prominence in not just bicycling, but the sports and celebrity world as a whole, has created problems that are more likely to be seen on Court TV than the Outdoor Life Network's Cyclysm Sundays. The blogger at Tour de France 2005 says, tongue in cheek, that he's considering putting up a site just to track Armstrong's lawsuits.
The latest has been the suit-countersuit drama in an Austin, Texas, court between Armstrong and his former assistant, Mike Anderson. Those filings late last week brought allegations that Anderson had found a box labelled for steroids in Armstrong's Girona, Spain, apartment — an allegation that Armstrong categorically denies.
Other court action initiated by Armstrong involves libel suits against a book published in Europe that alleges the cyclist used performance-enhancing drugs, and a lawsuit seeking $5 million owed him for endorsements. Then there's the accusation of “personal intimidation” that occurred with an Italian cyclist in the 2004 Tour de France.
The latest round of lawsuits began in December 2004 when Armstrong filed a lawsuit against his former assistant, Anderson, who had been fired — apparently due to conflicts between the two – and was seeking a costly settlement. Anderson countersued. In court documents filed last week (see page 10), Anderson alleged he found a box labelled Androstenin (a type of steroid) in Armstrong's Girona apartment. Although he never confronted Armstrong about it, he sensed that Armstrong somehow knew he had found the box and their business relationship quickly deterioriated.
Following those allegations, the Austin American-Statesman reports, Armstrong shot back later in the week seeking sanctions against Anderson and his lawyers for making allegations that were “below the level of tabloid journalism.” In earlier depositions, the Statesman reports, Anderson said he had no direct knowledge of Armstrong taking a banned substance.
It's not the first time Armstrong has come out swinging at the allegations of performance drug use. He filed libel suits against the authors and publisher of “L.A. Confidential, The Secrets of Lance Armstrong,” published in France shortly before the 2004 Tour de France. In that book, Emma O'Reilly, a former masseuse, says she was sent out to pick up drugs and dispose of used syringes. The book is printed in French and isn't, as far as I can tell, offered in the US.
The Armstrong libel suits have been dismissed in France, but are still being considered in Great Britain. In January, reports the Austin American-Stateman, a UK judge issued an order that the Sunday Times of London remove a story from its website regarding the drug charges in the book because it couldn't be considered “measured, neutral, or impartial reportage.”
Tailwind Sports, which owned and managed Armstrong's US Postal Service cycling team, had agreed to pay the cyclist $5 million if he could win the Tour de France between 2001 and 2004. Then, before the 2001 tour, Tailwind paid SCA $420,000 for SCA to agree to pay Armstrong the $5 million on what seemed a long shot at the time. When Armstrong won in 2004, a record-breaking sixth Tour victory, SCA delayed making the $5 million payout to Armstrong until it could investigate the allegations in the book. Armstrong and Tailwind sued in September, and the matter is still in arbitration.
The “personal intimidation” charge hasn't gone to court yet, and probably won't. The case involved Italian cyclist Filippo Simeoni who claims that Armstrong chased him down during a stage in last year's tour and threatened him. Simeoni is a key witness against Michele Ferrari, a doctor accused of giving performance-enhancing drugs to cyclists and an Armstrong training consultant. (Ferrari was later acquitted of giving illegal drugs to athletes, although he was convicted of sporting fraud and acting as a pharmacist.)
Armstrong flew to Italy last week to visit the Italian prosecutor who was considering filing the charges. Later, according to CyclingNews, Armstrong said he explained his side of the story.