Cycling

Why Feds finally folded Lance PED probe

Image: Lance Armstrong (MARK GUNTER/AFP)
Lance Armstrong is a seven-time winner of the Tour de France.
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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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Lance Armstrong wasn’t a slugger who allegedly doped his way past the beloved Hank Aaron for the all-time home run title. Armstrong didn’t go in front of Congress and claim one of his fellow pitchers “misremembered” talks about the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Still, Armstrong might want to send a thank-you card to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens after the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles announced Friday it had dropped its investigation of the seven-time Tour de France winner — ending a nearly two-year effort to determine if Armstrong and his teammates participated in doping.

For all the millions spent investigating Bonds and Clemens, all the Feds have to show for it is a one-month house arrest sentence against Bonds for obstruction, a mistrial for Clemens and a nation that has become blasé on the topic of drugs in sports.

“I think as a result of these prosecutions, the leagues and different organizations have enacted their own policies to combat performance-enhancing drugs,” former assistant US Attorney Marc Mukasey told FOXSports.com.

“There’s less of a need for these types of criminal prosecutions. Maybe the government needs to step back and learn a lesson. The Department of Justice has bigger fish to fry than a home-run king, a bike racer or a pitcher. They have yet to prosecute a significant figure connected to the recession, like those who committed mortgage fraud.”

Evidence — or lack of it — appears to have done in the federal investigation, although US Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. did not detail the factors in a news release that announced the end of the investigation.

DESPICABLE ME

The French love to hate Lance Armstrong. We have our own least favorite athletes.

Here’s a breakdown of the obstacles the Feds faced in a case that had been in front of a federal grand jury for months:

TIME

To bring charges against Armstrong for being part of a conspiracy to purchase and use performance-enhancing drugs, the normal statute of limitations is five years. To get around it, prosecutors reportedly tried several maneuvers, including claiming Armstrong and those close to him made overt acts to continue the conspiracy — a tack that would reset the clock on the statute of limitations.

Former teammate Tyler Hamilton claimed Armstrong used endurance-boosting erythropoietin (EPO) en route to his first Tour de France title in 1999. Another former teammate, Floyd Landis, told federal investigators and others that Armstrong received blood transfusions and testosterone patches — both banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) — during the 2002 Tour de France.

The passage of the years also limits what doping authorities can do to Armstrong.

Armstrong, who has steadfastly denied he’s ever doped, still is subject to an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency, although time is running out to prove Armstrong doped — at least as far as the Tour de France titles he won from 1999 through 2005 are concerned.

“Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing, and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation,” USADA spokesperson Annie Skinner said in a statement.

Under the World Anti-Doping Agency code, doping authorities have to abide by an eight-year statute of limitations. As of Friday, that means Armstrong's first five titles are safe, even if some solid evidence is uncovered.

Cycle through

Review the best images of the 2011 Tour de France as the riders made their way to Paris.

LIVESTRONG

Armstrong not only survived testicular cancer and went on to win the world’s most notable bike race seven times, he became a crusader against the disease via his Livestrong campaign. Those little yellow bracelets, other items and donations have raised more than $400 million to help cancer survivors.

That’s goodwill neither Bonds nor Clemens had.

“To make a case against a guy with that kind of reputation, you have to make sure everything is rock solid,” said Mukasey, a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani. “It seems, despite the fact there have been rumors going back for years, Armstrong has been able to successfully combat them. I have no doubt he was able to combat them again this time around.”

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Most of the allegations against Armstrong were for alleged acts committed in Europe. That meant federal authorities not only needed the cooperation of French and other foreign authorities but had to figure out how any such actions violated US law.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2010 the Feds were looking into the sale of 60 new bicycles, which allegedly were used to finance the doping efforts of Armstrong and others on the US Postal Service team. Investigators also reportedly looked into whether Armstrong or any of his associates misappropriated sponsor money from the US Postal Service from 2002 to '04.

CHARACTER FLAWS

The two most notable Armstrong accusers — Landis and Hamilton — had their baggage.

Landis' 2006 Tour de France title was stripped after he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, a result he fought for years — even in his own book — before he finally copped to it in 2010. He also was convicted in a French court for his role in a hacking into the computers of a doping lab.

Hamilton served two bans for doping and later gave back his 2004 Olympic gold medal.

PED fatigue

It’s been more than eight years since the raids on Bay Area Lab Cooperative (BALCO) turned into the biggest drug scandals in sports history. Several hearings in front of Congress and confessed dopers such as Alex Rodriguez later, the public fervor for these types of prosecutions has lessened.

The fact that Armstrong’s case was quietly dropped two days before the nation’s biggest sporting event might go unnoticed by some, but not by the man at the center of BALCO.

“It's very interesting that the Feds decided to release a statement announcing that they are closing the Lance Armstrong doping investigation on a Friday afternoon on Super Bowl weekend,” BALCO founder Victor Conte said in an email.

“It seems to be an obvious attempt to bury the fact that they have wasted so many federal taxpayer dollars.”

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