I apologize if this is a dumb question, but when I heard Lance Armstrong was going to race the Giro next year I was confused. Wasn’t there a warrant for his arrest or something of that nature in Italy for something akin to witness intimidation?
Salt Lake City Utah
No, it’s not a dumb question. Like my old boss used to say, “there are no dumb questions!” (Well, actually there are dumb questions – some really dumb ones in fact – but yours isn’t one of them.)
You are correct in recalling that there was the possibility that Armstrong would face charges of witness intimidation in Italy, stemming from one rather unusual encounter at the 2004 Tour de France.
So what’s the story? Well, it all started with the Italian criminal case lodged against Dr. Michele Ferrari. Ferrari had a stellar record as a trainer during the 1980s, marked by his coaching of Francesco Moser in preparation for the rider’s successful assault on the world hour record. Ferrari also coached Swiss stage racer Tony Rominger.
While Ferrari’s win/loss record was sound, his ethical reputation wasn’t particularly strong, especially after he uttered a now-oft-quoted line in which the doctor compared the safety of EPO to that of orange juice.
“EPO is not dangerous,” he said, “it’s the abuse that is. It’s also dangerous to drink ten liters of orange juice.”
What he failed to say – or never intended to say – is that such abuse includes injecting the stuff into perfectly healthy people.
He didn’t help his cause any when he also quipped that if a drug “doesn’t show up in a drug test, then it’s not doping.”
Yeah, some people just shouldn’t handle their own PR.
Anyway, not long after Rominger’s retirement, he signed on Lance Armstrong as a client. Given his reputation, however, that relationship was kept quiet until early 2001, when reporter David Walsh readied a story on that very topic. On the eve of the report’s publication in the Sunday Times of London, Armstrong conducted an interview with Gazetta dello Sport in which he mentioned his work with Ferrari.
As more and more doping allegations were lobbed at the doctor, Italian officials began an investigation and as part of that they interviewed a former patient, the cyclist, Filippo Simeoni. In testimony to investigators, Simeoni claimed that he had been doping since 1993 and had received advice and prescriptions for banned products from Ferrari, beginning in 1996.
Well, that didn’t sit well with Armstrong and in mid-2003, when asked about Simeoni’s allegations, Armstrong called him a “liar.” That, in turn, prompted Simeoni to sue the American for defamation.
Near the end of 2003 Ferrari was formally charged with “distributing dangerous substances to cyclists and other athletes.”
Okay, now flash forward to the 2004 Tour de France.
On the 18th stage – with Armstrong well-ensconced in the yellow jersey – Simeoni joined an otherwise benign break on a relatively flat stage. None of the riders in the break constituted a threat on GC and most of us know the drill by now: Guys attack, they get a gap, they get chased down and then there’s a field sprint.
Not that day. When he learned that Simeoni was in the break, Armstrong chased it down and stayed glued to the Italian’s wheel. As you might imagine, a break with the yellow jersey in it will get chased down. The other riders in the break begged Armstrong to drop back. He said he wouldn’t do so without Simeoni. Simeoni finally agreed, drifted back to the field and the break went on its happy way.
On the way back, Armstrong reportedly showed the Italian one of those “zip-the-lip” gestures. It was that which caught the interest of Italian investigators. He was asked to meet with investigators in Italy. Nothing came of that interview and the intimidation charge wasn’t filed.
Ferrari, meanwhile, was found guilty and given a one-year suspended sentence in October of 2004. Armstrong then cut his ties with the doctor and, we believe, he has not re-established that relationship despite the fact that Ferrari’s conviction was subsequently over-turned.
Simeoni’s defamation suit – and Armstrong’s subsequent counter-suit – were both withdrawn in April of 2006. So Armstrong is free to attend the Giro in May, without fear of being served, arrested or otherwise embroiled in the courts. We, meanwhile, have that really weird photo from the 2004 Tour for our scrapbooks.
“The Explainer” is a regular feature on VeloNews.com. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling that our editors might be able to answer, feel free to send your query to WebLetters@CompetitorGroup.com and we’ll take a stab at answering. Not all letters will be published and some questions may be combined with those of other readers. Please include your full name and hometown.