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Lance Armstrong loses bid to halt $100M lawsuit

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AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge on Monday refused to block the government’s $100 million lawsuit against Lance Armstrong, putting the former cyclist on course for trial in a 2010 case stemming from his performance-enhancing drug use.

The lawsuit was filed by Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis. The federal government joined in 2013 after Armstrong publicly admitted he cheated to win the Tour de France seven times from 1999-2005. Armstrong was stripped of those titles and banned from competition.

Armstrong has also taken huge hits financially, losing all his major sponsors and being forced to pay more than $10 million in damages and settlements in a series of lawsuits . The Landis lawsuit would be the biggest by far, and the ruling from U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington was a major setback for Armstrong with a trial most likely in the fall.

Armstrong’s legal team didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Landis, himself a former doping cheat who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title, sued Armstrong under the federal False Claims Act, alleging Armstrong and his team committed fraud against the government when they cheated while riding under the Postal Service banner. According to court records, the contract paid the team, which was operated by Tailwind Sports Corp., about $32 million from 2000 to 2004. Armstrong got nearly $13.5 million.

The law allows Landis and the government to sue to get that money back and for “treble” damages, or triple the amount, and Armstrong could be forced to pay all of it. Landis stands to receive up to 25 percent of any damages awarded.

Armstrong claims he and the team don’t owe the Postal Service anything because the agency made far more off the sponsorship than it paid. Armstrong’s lawyers have introduced internal studies for the agency that calculated benefits in media exposure topping $100 million.

The government has countered that the negative fallout from the doping scandal tainted the agency because of its association with Armstrong.

Cooper’s ruling said Armstrong makes a “persuasive case,” but that any decision on damages should be left to a jury.

“Giving Armstrong `credit’ for the benefits he delivered while using (performance-enhancing drugs) could be viewed as an unjust reward for having successfully concealed his doping for so long,” Cooper wrote. “(But) disregarding any benefits USPS received from the sponsorship could bestow the government with an undeserved windfall. The same could be said of Landis, whose role in this entire affair some would view as less than pure.”

Landis attorney Paul D. Scott said he was delighted” to see the case move toward trial.

“The finish line for Mr. Armstrong … is fast approaching,” Scott said.

Armstrong had been one of the most popular sports figures on the planet before his cheating confession.

His personal story of recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his brain, while forcefully denying persistent rumors of doping, had built his Lance Armstrong Foundation cancer charity into a $500 million global brand and turned him into a celebrity.

The foundation, which removed him from its board and renamed itself Livestrong, has struggled in the aftermath as donations and revenue plummeted.

Armstrong’s team was already under the Postal Service sponsorship when he won his first Tour de France in 1999. The media frenzy that followed pushed the agency to sign the team for another five years.

Armstrong’s cheating was finally uncovered in 2012 when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, armed with sworn testimony from Landis and other former teammates, moved to strip Armstrong of his titles.

Van Avermaet wins Gent-Wevelgem for two victories in three days

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GENT, Belgium (AP) Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet won his second race in three days Sunday, beating fellow Belgian Jens Keukeleire in a two-man sprint finish to take the Gent-Wevelgem classic.

World champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who won last year’s race, finished third.

The 249-kilometer (154.7-mile) race through Belgium included two ascents of the steep, cobbled Kemmelberg hill, one of the iconic climbs of the spring classics season.

Last year’s race was overshadowed by the death of Belgian rider Antoine Demoitie after a fall.

Sagan fell Friday in the E3 Harelbeke, which Van Avermaet also won to add to his victory last month in Het Nieuwsblad.

Alejandro Valverde wins his second Tour of Catalonia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Alejandro Valverde of Spain won his second Tour of Catalonia on Sunday.

Valverde secured the victory by finishing first in the 139-kilometer (86-mile) seventh stage, perfectly timing his final sprint at a hilltop overlooking Barcelona.

He finished the weeklong race more than one minute ahead of Alberto Contador and Marc Soler, who closed out the all-Spanish podium.

Valverde won despite receiving a one-minute time penalty Wednesday after race officials ruled that some Movistar riders pushed one another in Tuesday’s team time trial.

The 36-year-old Valverde had won two other stages.

Valverde also won the race in northeastern Spain in 2009, the same year he clinched the Spanish Vuelta for his only Grand Tour title.

Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome fell out of contention during Saturday’s stage.