The long uphill chase for the truth
David Zabriskie – a five-time national time-trial champion and one of Armstrong’s former team-mates – showed up on the doorstep of the federal courthouse in Los Angeles, finally ready to tell his story.
Zabriskie said that he had gone through some bad things in life, but being pushed to use drugs was one of the worst. The day he first used EPO, he said, Johan Bruyneel – the Postal Service team director and longtime Armstrong confidant – had told him “everyone is doing it”.
Hearing that had crushed him. His father had been an alcoholic, drug user and drug dealer and died young because of it. His father would push his mother around, prompting the young Zabriskie to step in and try to protect her. Cycling became a refuge. Bruyneel took Zabriskie under his wing shortly after his father died in 2002.
Soon, he was pressing Zabriskie to use performance- enhancing drugs, Zabriskie said.“What Johan did to me, I consider it a form of abuse because it was so horrible and affected me for the rest of my life,” Zabriskie said, choking up. “I know I was the first person to tell my story because Johan, he doesn’t need to be around young cyclists.”
Bruyneel, who has an open doping case against him, could not be reached for comment. By then, Armstrong was trying to keep his former team-mates from cracking. He listened in on at least one call his former team-mates had made to Bruyneel about the investigation, Zabriskie said. He assured them that everything would be okay.
In public, he seemed unfazed. After Landis’ accusations came out, Armstrong responded indignantly. “It’s just our word against his,” he said. “And we like our word.” Within days, though, unbeknown to Armstrong, that would no longer be true. Zabriskie and at least one other rider had quietly taken Landis’s side.
The evidence against Armstrong was mounting, though slowly. Tygart and the anti-doping agency backed off from their investigation while the federal authorities moved ahead. Riders offered his testimony to prosecutors, but some – like Tyler Hamilton and Levi Leipheimer – opened up only when a subpoena for a grand jury compelled them to.
Meanwhile, Armstrong or his representatives worked to wrestle control of the situation. They reached out to former riders to offer legal representation. Early on, George Hincapie, the only rider who was at Armstrong’s side for all seven of his Tour de France victories, retained a lawyer in California but quickly learned that the lawyer might not be serving his best interest – the lawyer was a fan of Armstrong’s and a supporter of his Livestrong charity – so he hired one based in New York.
Hincapie met with federal investigators voluntarily in August 2010 to tell them he had doped and that Armstrong had used blood transfusions, EPO and testosterone. After Leipheimer testified to the federal grand jury, he said, Armstrong had sent his wife a text message saying, “Run, don’t walk,” which Leipheimer took as a threat. All those riders kept quiet about their testimony and waited to see what would come of it.
Nothing came of it. Without explanation, the federal inquiry was dropped in early February, stunning Tygart and the riders – and even the investigators involved in the case. The riders, who believed they had risked their reputations to confess their doping to help shed light on their tarnished sport, were disheartened. Armstrong, who had fought off doping accusations for more than a decade, had won again, some said.
Tygart asked the federal investigators to share some evidence they had uncovered outside the grand jury, to no avail. The Justice Department would not comply, he said. For Tygart, time was running out. The London Olympics were fewer than three months away, and some of the former Postal Service riders were likely candidates for the US team.
More than two years had gone by since Landis broke the silence about the Postal Service team, and Usada’s case was languishing.