Lance Armstrong faces tough ride - ex mechanic

DELAY: Question marks over cycling legend Lance Armstrong will continue for another month at least.
DELAY: Question marks over cycling legend Lance Armstrong will continue for another month at least.

A Wellington bike shop owner whose testimony could help bring down Lance Armstrong believes the seven-times Tour de France champion is in danger of becoming a permanent "symbol for decades of corruption".

American Mike Anderson, who emigrated to New Zealand four years ago after a career as Armstrong's long-time bike mechanic and personal assistant, predicted a bleak future for his ex-boss despite his vehement and continual protests that he has not used performance-enhancing drugs during his celebrated career.

Anderson moved to Wellington after falling out and settling a lawsuit with Armstrong and his testimony in that case has been seized upon by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which is investigating the world's most famed cyclist.

Anderson said Armstrong, who is riding in the Tour Down Under in Adelaide this week, should fear the year-long FDA criminal probe which is back in the headlines after American magazine Sports Illustrated published its key allegations last week.

The probe is investigating whether Armstrong was involved in an organised effort to use illegal performance-enhancing drugs when he led the US government-sponsored US Postal team from 1999 to 2004.

Anderson worked for Armstrong, who is also a celebrated cancer survivor, during that period and says the FDA probe's head, Jeff Novitzky is a well-known public figure in the US with a reputation for always getting his man.

"I've spoken to Novitzky on the phone at length last year. The guy is described by people as the Elliott Ness of his area of law enforcement and if you've got him on your tail you're in big trouble," Anderson told the Sunday Star-Times.

"He doesn't undertake things he isn't going to win. Those guys have a ridiculously high ratio of convictions – they don't undertake superfluous investigations and I don't think this is going to be a good outcome if you're Lance Armstrong."

Anderson admits to a massive falling out with Armstrong over the doping allegations and says if his former employer is sent to prison, which is possible, it would be a "bittersweet" outcome.

"To be honest when I finally realised what was going on it was very troubling to me because Lance was my friend. When I had my hand forced and had to say `I know what's going on' it was like telling a bunch of kids there's no such thing as Santa Claus; it popped the bubble for a lot of people who had deified Lance and it still troubles me.

"Everything that I saw, every bit of information I was able to offer was part of the public record during the lawsuit and Novitzky can subpoena that from the court records."

Anderson said he had no "personal vendetta"` against Armstrong. "Whatever happens, happens," he said of FDA investigation. "But what he may become is a symbol for decades of corruption in professional cycling."

Among the evidence Anderson has given against Armstrong was that he discovered a cardboard box in Armstrong's bathroom cabinet of his Spanish apartment with the word "ANDRO" on it and was involved in a ruse to fool drug testers who had once turned up up Armstrong's ranch unannounced.

Andro is most likely Androstenedione, a banned steroid. Armstrong denies ever having taken andro and, through his lawyers, denies any involvement in any attempt to fool drug testers.

Anderson claimed he found the labelled box while acting on his boss's instruction to clear the apartment of all traces of Armstrong's former wife Kristin before he arrived there with his new partner, singer Sheryl Crowe.

While the circumstantial evidence against Armstrong continues to grow, Anderson said it was hard for many to accept their hero might be flawed, especially as Armstrong's PR machine was so powerful.

"We hear the same lies over and over again and they become truths. One of the comparisons I've made about Armstrong to countless people is the kind of stuff that came out of the mouth of George W Bush about weapons of mass destruction and the war in Iraq. It was a bunch of made-up stuff and I think it's pretty funny that the media advisers to George Bush and Lance Armstrong are in the same building in Austin, Texas.

"It's the same group of guys who craft these nonsenical half-truths and the public laps it up because if you're a cancer survivor or a family member of someone who has gone through cancer you're far more apt to latch on to these stories because you need that hope. That's the irony really, that's the sadness behind all this in my view."

One of the reasons Anderson said he moved to New Zealand is that hardly anyone here knew about his connection to Armstrong and "I'd rather forget it all happened".

Sports Illustrated references Anderson and former Kiwi pro cyclist Stephen Swart among its many interview subjects and sources in its "case against Armstrong".

Through his lawyers and via a passionate defence on Twitter on Friday, Armstrong has continued to deny the SI claims while racing in Australia during the past week.

Sunday Star Times