Greg LeMond’s lawyer was laying groundwork to make Lance Armstrong — and LeMond’s charges that Armstrong doped his way to his Tour de France wins — part of the contractual dispute between LeMond and Trek Bicycle. And now that the case is settled, LeMond might re-ignite his charges against his fellow Tour winner.
Attorney Jamie DiBoise planned to call some noted Armstrong critics to testify at the trial, which had been scheduled to start less than four weeks from now in a Minnesota federal court. In October DiBoise took a three-hour deposition from Armstrong’s ex-wife, asking whether she had ever seen Armstrong use doping products (a question her lawyer kept her from answering).
Lance Armstrong has repeatedly rejected any claims that he has used performance-enhancing drugs. Through his spokesman Mark Higgins he declined to comment for this article.
DiBoise — who said he regretted joining LeMond’s legal team too late to ask to depose Lance Armstrong — said LeMond is free to speak out about Armstrong in the public arena and in the courts.
“Greg is not gagged,” DiBoise told VeloNews this week. “I expect you will start to hear from him in a few weeks.”
“The settlement resolves the contractual issues, but it doesn’t necessarily resolve all the claims that flew back and fourth,” he said.
The settlement included Trek paying $200,000 to a charity that LeMond supports, and other terms that neither side will discuss.
The Trek-LeMond dispute had nothing to do with Armstrong, Trek’s attorney Ralph Weber told VeloNews. “Lance Armstrong was not a part of the arguments and we didn’t expect that claims relative to Mr. Armstrong would have played a role in the ultimate resolution,” Weber said.
A public dispute
Trek and LeMond had been suing each other since 2008, each alleging the other violated terms of a licensing agreement that began in 1995.
Trek had charged, in part, that LeMond devalued the LeMond Bicycle brand by being publicly critical of Armstrong, who has a close relationship with Trek. LeMond, in part, claimed Trek had not adequately marketed the LeMond Bicycle brand.
We’ll never know whether the judge would have allowed a jury to hear testimony about Armstrong and doping or to consider it when deciding who was to blame.
“We believe that it would have come up,” DiBoise said. “I doubt that we would have avoided any questions that were asked of us at trial — and that would have been public — it was going to be a public trial. Whether the judge would allow that (line of discussion), I don’t know.”
Weber said the fact that Lance Armstrong was never deposed shows he was irrelevant to the case.
“If he had anything to do with the dispute he would have been deposed. He was not deposed,” Weber said.
But DiBoise, who took over the case from LeMond’s previous attorney late last year, said he would have asked to depose the Texan had he represented LeMond during the discovery period. One of his first moves when hired was to take a deposition from Armstrong’s ex-wife, Kristin, who was on the list of witnesses to be deposed.
(Editor’s note: Lance Armstrong’s ex-wife is no relation to retired cyclist Kristin Armstrong, the Olympic gold medalist and world champion.)
LeMond’s case might have hinged on a remark that Lance Armstrong allegedly made in 2001, at dinner in France with former teammate Frankie Andreu, his wife Betsy and others. The Andreus (who have had a testy relationship with Armstrong in the last decade) were expected to testify at the trial.
DiBoise said several witnesses at the dinner would have testified that Armstrong was upset with LeMond at remarks LeMond made about Armstrong’s association with trainer Michele Ferrari. According to the witnesses, Armstrong said he would call John Burke, the president of Trek, to get back at LeMond.
DiBoise asked Kristin Armstrong about it at an October deposition in Austin.
DiBoise: Were you ever present at a dinner meeting in Villa France, in which Mr. Armstrong told Frankie Andrea and Besty Andreu that he was very displeased with Mr. LeMond’s statement?
Kristin Armstrong: Again, I don’t remember specific dinners or the conversations or the locations or — I don’t. It was a long time ago.
DiBoise: Okay, do you have any general recollection of Mr. Armstrong expressing to anyone, other than you, his displeasure with Mr. LeMond’s statements?
Kristin Armstrong: I just remember a general dislike, but I can’t remember what he said.
Armstrong’s attorney, Timothy Herman, objected to the questions as irrelevant, calling some of DiBoise’s questions “reprehensible” and “in bad faith,” and threatening to suspend the deposition. After much back and forth between the two lawyers, DiBoise asked Armstrong “whether or not you ever observed your husband, your ex-husband, using any banned substances during the time he was racing on the professional cycling circuit?”
Before Armstrong could answer, Herman said he was instructing her not to and asked to take a 5-minute break. After the break, DiBoise resumed asking Armstrong about other subjects.
Trek’s Weber said the Kristin Armstrong deposition “didn’t add anything to the record.”
“There was no dispute that in 2001 Lance was understandably upset at (LeMond’s) remarks,” he said.
“There is no dispute that John Burke had to act the role of Henry Kissinger to make peace. There is no dispute that (LeMond and Armstrong) agreed to make peace and issue a press release that Greg LeMond agreed to and the parties moved forward for another three years. Kristin Armstrong didn’t have any new evidence on these points,” Weber said.
Judge open to raising the Armstrong issue?
It’s difficult to tell from pre-trial hearings and rulings whether Judge Richard Kyle would have allowed DiBoise to bring Lance Armstrong into the trial. A key ruling in December narrowed the dispute, eliminating Trek’s charges that LeMond abused a discount bike purchase program. Kyle’s ruling focused the dispute on LeMond’s remarks about Armstrong and how those remarks affects bicycle sales.
“A jury could reasonably infer, depending on how the evidence unfolds at trial, that the LeMond brand’s lack of growth was caused by LeMond’s statements,” Kyle wrote, in rejecting LeMond’s request to summarily dismiss that aspect of Trek’s suit.
At an earlier hearing, Kyle had questioned Weber and DiBoise about whether the dispute would have come up if LeMond had simply said ‘no comment’ when reporters asked him about Armstrong.
Kyle also asked if Trek would have a case if LeMond’s comments were accurate.
“Let’s assume it turns out tomorrow that Armstrong had been doping,” the judge asked Weber. “What happens to your claim here then?”
Weber said it would have no effect because, regardless, LeMond’s comments about Armstrong had harmed the brand and sales.
Kyle continued to probe.
Kyle: You know, some test comes back. They have some way of doing it, and sure enough he’s been doping.
Weber: It doesn’t undo the $9 million and more in lost profits from the bike sales Trek did not realize.
Kyle: Even if what (LeMond) said was absolutely true?
Weber: Right. Trek was damaged. The contract with LeMond is over. Trek was damaged to the tune of between $9 and $12 million as the result of lost bike sales. That doesn’t go away.
At the end of the same hearing, Kyle’s remarks seem to imply he was expecting Armstrong at the trial.
“If counsel who intend to try the case and perhaps Mr. LeMond or Mr. Armstrong have got major issues already in March or that period of time in terms of pre-planned vacations or whatever it is, you ought to let … my calendar clerk know.”
Weber cautioned not to read too much into the remark.
“This was at the end of a long hearing, as we are buckling up our briefcases and the judge was saying, ‘we are moving forward in early March, and if that’s a problem, let me know,’ ” Weber said.
Kyle, who frequently likened the case to a nasty divorce, had repeatedly urged the sides to settle.
“This is going to be a first-class fight going on here, and it’s not one I relish trying. It might be interesting …,” he told them last year.