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Judge sets limits on key testimony in Armstrong lawsuit

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) A federal judge has set some limits on key evidence and testimony in Lance Armstrong’s upcoming $100 million civil trial, including harm inflicted on former team sponsor U.S. Postal Service and whether the government should have known the cyclist and his team were cheating to win when it signed the deal.

Armstrong faces a 2018 trial as the federal government seeks to recover more than $30 million the Postal Service paid to sponsor his team for several Tour de France victories. Those wins were stripped away after Armstrong’s 2013 confession to using steroids other banned performance-enhancing drugs and methods.

If liable for damages, Armstrong could be subject to penalties in the range of $100 million.

Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington sets ground rules for evidence that both sides want to present regarding harm to the Postal Service, doping use in cycling and the character and motivation of Armstrong and his former teammate Floyd Landis, who initially filed the lawsuit in 2010 and stands to gain up to 25 percent of the damages awarded.

The ruling bars the government’s expert witnesses from testifying that the Postal Service got no financial benefit whatsoever from its sponsorship, a decision Armstrong’s lawyers consider a key victory for arguing whether the agency was actually damaged by his doping. The government experts will be allowed to testify as to whether the agency was damaged beyond the value of its original sponsorship.

Lawyers for Armstrong and Landis both claimed victory in the ruling.

“We think it’s great. The court says very clearly the government cannot pursue that the sponsorship had no value because of team doping. They have to prove damages to Postal Service after 2013 and Lance’s confession,” said Elliott Peters, an attorney for Armstrong.

“The rulings largely fall our way,” said Landis attorney Paul D. Scott. “The court left open a clear path for the government and Landis to prove up damages arising from negative publicity associated with the disclosure of Armstrong’s doping and concealment.”

The judge will also allow one of Armstrong’s experts to testify on the rampant use of doping in cycling in Armstrong’s era, opening up a line of defense that the government should have known, or did know, that Armstrong’s team was cheating and sponsored his team anyway.

The judge put some limits on a key piece of Armstrong evidence: reports commissioned by the Postal Service that said the sponsorship had “earned” the agency more than $100 million in global exposure. Most of those reports were ruled inadmissible, but Armstrong will be allowed to show that Postal Service officials had accepted the reports’ findings.

Armstrong’s lawyers will also be allowed – with limits – to question Landis’ credibility and potential financial motivation for filing the lawsuit. Landis himself was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping.

The government will be allowed to call as witnesses Betsy Andreu and former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Andreu, the wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, provided the first sworn testimony of doping allegations against Armstrong in a 2005 lawsuit. LeMond has publicly clashed with both Armstrong and Landis.

Tuesday’s ruling also allows the government to bring evidence about Armstrong’s relationship with other sponsors, such as Nike and Trek, that dropped him after the doping scandal broke.

Froome effectively seals Giro title in penultimate stage

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CERVINIA, Italy (AP) Chris Froome effectively sealed victory in the Giro d’Italia on Saturday by holding his only remaining challenger in check up the final climb of the three-week race.

The four-time Tour de France champion takes a 40-second lead over Tom Dumoulin into Sunday’s mostly ceremonial finish in Rome and is poised to win his third consecutive Grand Tour, matching the achievements of cycling greats Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault.

Dumoulin attacked Froome multiple times on the finishing climb of the 214-kilometer (133-mile) leg from Susa to Cervinia but in five attempts wasn’t able to gain any ground. After Dumoulin’s fifth attack, Froome responded with an acceleration of his own and dropped Dumoulin briefly.

Spanish rider Mikel Nieve of the Mitchelton-Scott team won the stage with a long, solo breakaway to celebrate his 34th birthday.

The concluding stage is a flat 115-kilometer (71-mile) leg of 10 laps around a circuit through the center of Rome.

Froome pulls off audacious attack to take Giro lead

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BARDONECCHIA, Italy (AP) Chris Froome produced one of the great performances of his career, attacking alone on a gravel road up a grueling climb to win the 19th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Friday and claim the overall leader’s pink jersey.

The four-time Tour de France champion launched his solo attack up the three-week race’s highest climb with 80 kilometers (50 miles) to go and rode clear amid banks of snow above the tree line.

Pedaling furiously, Froome continuously increased his advantage over two more Alpine ascents to finish three minutes ahead of his closest challenger.

The victory put Froome in position to win his third consecutive Grand Tour and match the achievements of the great Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault. There are two stages of the Giro left.

“I don’t think I’ve ever attacked 80 kilometers from the finish, riding on my own and going all the way to the finish,” Froome said. “I knew there was a long way to go but to win this Giro d’Italia I had to do something extraordinary. I couldn’t wait for the last climb. I had to do something crazy.

“Colle delle Finestre was the perfect place to do it. Gravel roads remind me of Africa,” added Froome, who races for Britain with Team Sky but was born and raised in Kenya.

Froome leads defending champion Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands by 40 seconds in the overall standings. Frenchman Thibaut Pinot is third overall, 4:17 behind.

There is one more mountainous stage on Saturday, a 214-kilometer leg from Susa to Cervinia, before Sunday’s mostly ceremonial finish in Rome.

Froome had started the day fourth overall, more than three minutes behind previous leader Simon Yates.

Yates fell far behind up the grueling climb on Colle delle Finestre as Froome launched his audacious attack, and finished nearly 40 minutes behind.

It was Yates’ 13th day wearing the pink jersey.

Richard Carapaz of Ecuador crossed second in the stage, exactly three minutes behind, and French challenger Thibaut Pinot finished third, 3:07 back.

Dumoulin came fifth, 3:23 behind Froome.

Froome arrived at the Giro with big hopes but had not really been a threat after crashing in training before the opening time trial, losing time in a split on stage four, and injuring himself again in a second crash four days later. His only previous highlight in the race was winning Stage 14 up Monte Zoncolan, one of the toughest climbs in Europe.

“It was a very, very tough start for me after the fall,” Froome said. “But I kept up my morale for the finish and I knew that if I did everything right the time to attack would come. That moment came today.”

Only two riders have ever won three or more consecutive Grand Tours. Merckx won four straight between 1972 and 1973 and Hinault took three in a row in 1982 and 1983.

However, Froome is racing under the cloud of a potential ban after a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol that was twice the permitted level. It remains unclear when the International Cycling Union will rule on the case.

Froome denies any wrongdoing.

The 185-kilometer (115-mile) leg from Venaria Reale to Bardonecchia in the Piedmont region was considered the race’s toughest.

Passing through the region where the 2006 Turin Olympics were held, the route contained more than 4,000 meters of climbing and traversed the highest point of the race – the Cima Coppi (Coppi peak) – at an altitude of 2,178 meters (more than 7,000 feet) atop the Colle delle Finestre.

Froome attacked shortly after the road turned to gravel halfway up the Finestre.

Fabio Aru, a pre-race favorite, retired midway through the stage.

Saturday’s stage features three category 1 climbs, including an uphill finish.