During his battle with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last year, Lance Armstrong went to extreme lengths to disparage the agency, a quasi-governmental organization charged with policing banned drug use in Olympic sports.
He called the organization a kangaroo court that flagrantly violated the constitution and deceitfully used taxpayer dollars to conduct witch hunts. He called its chief executive, Travis Tygart, an anti-doping zealot with a vendetta against him, even as the agency released more than 1,000 pages of evidence in October laying out the case that Armstrong had doped and had been a part of a sophisticated doping scheme on his cycling teams. The agency said Armstrong, a cancer survivor who had inspired millions fighting the disease, lied when he said he had never doped. It also said he destroyed the lives of people in cycling who dared to say he had used banned drugs.
Yet within the past month, Armstrong’s representatives reached out to Tygart to arrange a meeting between Armstrong and the agency. The goal of that meeting was to find out if a confession could mitigate Armstrong’s lifetime ban from Olympic sports, according to several people with knowledge of the situation. Those people did not want their names published because it would jeopardize their access to sensitive information on the matter.
Tygart welcomed the invitation, and that meeting occurred last month, said one person familiar with the situation. In the end, no matter how much Tygart and Armstrong had fought each other, they still need each other.
But Tim Herman, Armstrong’s lawyer, said talks with Tygart and the anti-doping agency are not on the table. Armstrong has not met with Tygart, Herman said.
Armstrong, 41, would like to resume competing in triathlons and running events that are sanctioned by organizations that follow the World Anti-Doping Code. Tygart wants to know how Armstrong so skillfully eluded testing positive for banned drugs for nearly a decade.
Tygart, who declined to comment, has said in the past that he is interested in hearing from athletes who doped because they could lead him to the coaches, agents, doctors, team owners or other sports personnel who organized or encouraged doping.
“Mr. Armstrong did not act alone," the anti-doping agency wrote in its report on Armstrong. “He acted with a small army of enablers, including doping doctors, drug smugglers and others within the sport and on his team."
If Tygart is able to gather incriminating information about those people and build cases against them that could bar them from sports, he could deal a serious blow to the doping that has been enmeshed in the culture of cycling for more than 100 years. Though 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates provided some information about those enablers, it is very likely that Armstrong, who kept much of the doping secretive, according to some of his teammates, knows much more.
“I think it’s very valuable to them to know exactly how Lance avoided getting caught and how tests were evaded," said Jonathan Vaughters, a former Armstrong teammate, a vocal anti-doping proponent and current co-owner of the Garmin-Sharp professional cycling team. “They need someone on the inside to tell them how it was done, and not just anyone on the inside, someone on the inside who was very influential. Someone like Lance."
Vaughters said a confession by Armstrong might encourage other riders to say what they know and encourage a “truth and reconciliation" effort, in which riders would not be penalized for confessing to doping if they detailed how they got away with it. That effort could educate anti-doping authorities, so those entities could bolster drug testing and close any loopholes, Vaughters said.
“I feel like Lance’s confession could push that effort forward dramatically," he said. “Right now, we almost have to destroy the sport in order to save it."
The anti-doping agency already has brought cases against five of Armstrong’s former colleagues. Michele Ferrari, an Italian doctor and Armstrong’s trainer, and Luis Garcia del Moral, a team doctor, have accepted lifetime bans. The three others have requested that their cases go to arbitration: Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong’s team manager who remains a powerful influence in the sport; Pepe Marti, a former team trainer; and Pedro Celaya.
If Armstrong gives an admission to the anti-doping agency, his testimony might help the agency win those cases. It also might help the agency find out who, if anyone, in the hierarchy of cycling was involved in the cover-up.
At least two of Armstrong’s former teammates have claimed that the International Cycling Union, cycling’s worldwide governing body, made the results of a failed drug test at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland disappear for Armstrong. Only Armstrong might be able to say if that is true.
David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he hoped to have the opportunity to speak with Armstrong about any doping that Armstrong may have done. He might have the opportunity to do that sooner than he thinks.
Armstrong would like to speak with Howman in the coming weeks, said several people with knowledge of the situation, though Howman said late Friday that he had not heard from Armstrong or his representatives.
Howman, who is on vacation in New Zealand, said it would be “nonsensical" for him to ignore that invitation just because Armstrong had criticized anti-doping officials so harshly and publicly.
“I’m prepared to talk to anybody if it’s helpful in the fight against doping in sports," Howman said. “I don’t believe that you should judge anybody from the past."
He added that he could not speculate how, or if, Armstrong’s lifetime ban would change if Armstrong confessed. It would depend on what Armstrong said and how much his information could lead to the prosecution of others.
The World Anti-Doping Code, the rules to which Olympic sports adhere, says athletes who provide “substantial assistance" to anti-doping authorities in a doping investigation could receive up to a 75 percent reduction of punishment.
Athletes like the cyclist Joe Papp, who tested positive once, then was later caught distributing performance-enhancing drugs, should have received a lifetime ban for his second offense. Instead, he received eight years after helping the anti-doping agency and federal law enforcement build cases on people involved in doping.
Papp now gives speeches about the dangers of doping.
Whether Armstrong will make that dramatic of a turn is unclear. Several legal cases stand between him and his confession, say several people familiar with the situation.
But he and Tygart have taken the first step.