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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 Garderen embraces No. 2 role for team at Tour de France

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LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France – For years, Tejay van Garderen has been the United States’ best hope of winning the Tour de France.

But for this edition of the world’s biggest cycling race, Van Garderen is tasked with doing all he can for teammate Richie Porte to fight for the title.

“It’s different. It’s certainly less pressure, and when you have a leader like Richie it’s a role that is easy to jump into,” Van Garderen said on Thursday, two days before the race starts in western France.

Van Garderen’s first job will be to do his part on the team time trial on Stage 3. A good result by BMC would boost Porte’s chances of ending Chris Froome’s dominance at the Tour.

His next challenge as his team’s No. 2 will be to protect Porte on the climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees where only the hardiest riders can keep up.

Van Garderen, who finished the Tour of California second in May, showed he can protect Porte in the mountains when he helped the Australian win the Tour de Suisse last month by reeling in rivals when they attacked.

“He already performed well in that role, especially in the Tour de Suisse, when (Mikel) Landa and (Nairo) Quintana launched attacks,” BMC sports director Fabio Baldato told The Associated Press. “It’s a new role but he’s well established within the team.”

When acting as BMC’s leader, Van Garderen finished the Tour in fifth place in 2012 and 2014.

In 2015, he was riding in third place and aiming for a spot on the podium in Paris when he fell ill and was forced to withdraw.

Those ascending results generated expectations that Van Garderen could one day become the first American to cleanly win the Tour since Greg LeMond in 1989 and 1990. Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis were later stripped of their Tour titles for having doped.

But when Porte joined BMC in 2016, the American team said Porte and Van Garderen were the co-leaders at the Tour. Porte finished a career-best fifth in the race, while Van Garderen was 29th. Van Garderen skipped last year’s Tour to ride in the Giro d’Italia.

Baldato said it was the 29-year-old Van Garderen who wanted to play wingman this time around.

“He asked to come to the Tour as a support rider. We call him a teammate `di lusso’ (an extra special teammate),” Baldato told The AP. “The pressure that came with being the leader wasn’t easy to handle. Now that he’s free of that pressure he’s got less weight on his shoulders.

“It will free his mind up and make him ride better.”

Porte knows what it means to be a shield-bearer. He was Froome’s ally when he won his first two Tour titles in 2013 and 2015 for Team Sky.

At 33, Porte also knows this may be his last chance to win an elusive Grand Tour. Last year he was in contention for the Tour until he crashed out.

When asked if he would be prepared to take over if Porte again falters, Van Garderen replied with a curt, “I will do what I am told.

“(Porte) is in great shape and he has a good shot to get on the podium in Paris and I am looking forward to helping him to be able to do that.”

 

Froome calls on skeptical fans to let him ride Tour in peace

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SAINT-MARS-LA-REORTHE, France — Chris Froome has asked Tour de France fans to let him race in peace, even if they doubt the recent ruling that cleared him of doping allegations.

The British cyclist has been targeted by spectators in the past. During the 2015 Tour, he said a man threw a cup of urine at him while yelling “doper”.

With the latest edition beginning on Saturday, five days after the International Cycling Union finally ruled Froome had won last year’s Spanish Vuelta cleanly, the four-time Tour winner offered an alternative way for skeptical fans to show their distrust.

“Support the race in a positive way, don’t bring negativity,” he said on Wednesday in western France. “In terms of safety I obviously would encourage fans of the sport to come watch the race, and if you are not necessarily a Chris Froome fan or a Sky fan, come to the race and put a jersey on of another team you do support. That would be my advice.”

A cloud hung over Froome after a urine sample taken during the Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level.

After months of silence, the UCI said Froome’s result did not represent an adverse finding, which could have led him to be stripped of his Vuelta victory, and a suspension.

The UCI’s ruling ensured he could compete at the Tour after race organizer ASO had informed Team Sky it would forbid Froome from entering until the doping case was decided.

His use of asthma medication has been well documented and he often uses inhalers during races. World Anti-Doping Agency rules state an athlete can be cleared for excessive salbutamol use if he proves it was due to an appropriate therapeutic dosage.

Froome said he understands it may take time for fans to believe he is not a cheat.

“But that data is available, and I would like to think that as people understand that more, they will understand my decision to keep on racing knowing I have certainly done nothing wrong,” Froome said. “Of course it has been damaging. As it is right now I’m just happy to draw a line in the sand and move on and focus on bike racing.”

UCI president David Lappartient has also issued a call for calm.

“(Froome) has the right to operate in a safe environment. I have heard calls, sometimes completely irrational, to violence on the Tour de France,” Lappartient said. “I cannot accept that and I call on all spectators to protect all the athletes and to respect the judicial decision so that Chris Froome can compete in a safe and serene environment.”

Teammate Geraint Thomas said Froome has shown poise even when fans are at their worst.

“I’ve always been impressed by the way he is off the bike,” Thomas said. “But the last nine months have been the most impressive, really, how he was able to still perform and train and commit to all that while everything else was going on.”

Thomas, however, said possible run-ins with the public are part of riding down roads lined by people, most of who are there to cheer on the athletes.

“It’s not like football – it’s not in just a closed stadium when you can check everyone,” he said. “So there is that element of risk so to speak.”

Froome is aiming to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only riders to win the Tour five times.