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Lance Armstrong settles $100 million lawsuit with U.S. government

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong has reached a $5 million settlement with the federal government in a whistleblower lawsuit that could have sought $100 million in damages from the cyclist who was stripped of his record seven Tour de France victories after admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout much of his career.

The deal announced Thursday came as the two sides prepared for a trial that was scheduled to start May 7 in Washington. Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis filed the original lawsuit in 2010 and is eligible for up to 25 percent of the settlement.

Seeking millions spent sponsoring Armstrong’s powerhouse teams, the government joined the lawsuit against Armstrong in 2013 after his televised confession to using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs and methods. Armstrong had already retired, but the confession shattered the legacy of one of the most popular sports figures in the world.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Armstrong said he’s happy to have “made peace with the Postal Service.”

“While I believe that their lawsuit against me was meritless and unfair, and while I am spending a lot of money to resolve it, I have since 2013 tried to take full responsibility for my mistakes and inappropriate conduct, and make amends wherever possible,” he said. “I rode my heart out for the Postal cycling team, and was always especially proud to wear the red, white and blue eagle on my chest when competing in the Tour de France. Those memories are very real and mean a lot to me.”

The settlement clears the 46-year-old Armstrong of the most damaging legal issues still facing the cyclist since his downfall. He had already taken huge hits financially, losing all his major sponsors and being forced to pay more than $20 million in damages and settlements in a series of lawsuits. The government’s lawsuit would have been the biggest by far.

Armstrong is still believed to be worth millions based on a vast investment portfolio and homes in Austin, Texas, and Aspen, Colo. He also owns a pair of bicycle shops in Austin and WeDu, an endurance events company. He also hosts a regular podcast in which he interviews other sports figures and celebrities and has provided running commentary on the Tour de France.

Armstrong had built a worldwide following during his career winning races and fighting cancer.

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 seen donations and revenue plummet since Armstrong’s confession.

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 and his teams dominated cycling’s marquee event, winning every year from 1999-2005.

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.

One of Armstrong’s fiercest critics was frustrated by the settlement. Betsy Andreu, whose husband Frankie was a former Armstrong teammate, was the first to testify under oath about his performance-enhancing drug use in a 2005 civil lawsuit.

“It’s utterly shocking that the government settled for so little,” Andreu said.

Andreu and her husband were close with Armstrong when the men were teammates before Andreu retired in 2000. Armstrong later strenuously denied Betsy’s claims of drug use and tried to publicly discredit her, which succeeded for years. She wanted the case to go to trial.

“I would have liked to have been questioned under oath. That’s my goal. And whether or not the jury would have convicted him would have been a different story, but it would have been nice to have my say under oath. He tried to destroy me.,” Andreu said.

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.

Under the lawsuit, the government could have pursued “treble” damages, which could have reached the $100 million range. As the person who filed the original lawsuit, Landis is eligible for up to 25 percent of the settlement, which will include an additional $1.65 million paid to Landis’ attorneys.

Armstrong had claimed he didn’t owe the Postal Service anything because the agency made far more off the sponsorship than it paid; Armstrong’s lawyers introduced internal studies for the agency that calculated benefits in media exposure topping $100 million. The government countered that Armstrong had been “unjustly enriched” through the sponsorship and that the negative fallout from the doping scandal tainted the agency’s reputation.

Armstrong had been the target of a federal criminal grand jury, but that case was closed without charges in February 2012. Armstrong had previously tried to settle the Landis whistleblower lawsuit, but those talks broke down before the government announced its intention to join the case.

“I am glad to resolve this case and move forward with my life,” Armstrong said. “I’m looking forward to devoting myself to the many great things in my life — my five kids, my wife, my podcast, several exciting writing and film projects, my work as a cancer survivor, and my passion for sports and competition. There is a lot to look forward to.”

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Investigation: Bradley Wiggins won Tour de France using drug without medical need

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LONDON (AP) — Bradley Wiggins used a banned powerful corticosteroid to enhance his performance while preparing to win the Tour de France in 2012, a British parliamentary committee said in a doping investigation report that accuses Team Sky of crossing an “ethical line” after preaching zero tolerance.

The legislators said they received evidence that shows Team Sky sought a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for Wiggins to take triamcinolone “not to treat medical need” — asthma — “but to improve his power to weight ratio.”

“We believe this powerful corticosteroid was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the (2012) Tour de France,” the House of Commons select committee said in the report published Monday. “He benefited from the performance-enhancing properties of this drug during the race.”

In a statement, Wiggins denied “any drug was used without medical need.” Team Sky defended its reputation in a statement criticizing “the anonymous and potentially malicious claim” by members of parliament.

But the report from a committee established in 2015 to investigate doping casts doubt on the team’s use of medication and failure to keep accurate medical records.

Team Sky general manager “David Brailsford must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed and the damaging skepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments,” the report states.

The report also accused IAAF President Sebastian Coe of misleading the parliamentary inquiry into doping.

It was critical of Coe’s responses to questions regarding how much he knew about doping within track and field before the problems were revealed by investigative journalists and whistle-blowers.

The committee suggested Coe could have acted sooner to clean up the sport while he served as vice president of the international track and field federation until 2015, when he won an election to succeed Lamine Diack as president.

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TEAM ACCUSED

Brailsford, who directed Britain’s breakthrough success at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, established Team Sky in 2009 with the financial backing of satellite broadcaster Sky, whose largest shareholder is Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. The stated mission was to cleanly produce Britain’s first Tour de France champion as cycling was trying to rebuild its reputation after years of scandals.

The publication of the parliamentary report comes with Team Sky’s four-time Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, under investigation by cycling’s world governing body for failing a doping test. Froome has been ordered to explain why a urine sample he provided at the Spanish Vuelta in September showed a concentration of the asthma drug salbutamol at twice the permitted level. Froome denies any wrongdoing.

Wiggins was Team Sky’s first Tour de France champion, emerging victorious in 2012 before cementing his status as Britain’s most decorated Olympian at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games by taking his haul to eight medals before retiring.

Tour de France organizers told The Associated Press on Sunday that they have no comment to make on the issue.

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MYSTERY PACKAGE

Investigations into Wiggins began later in 2016 following a leak to a newspaper about a medical package delivered to the rider at the 2011 Dauphine Libere race in France, a key pre-Tour event. The mystery deepened as Team Sky declined for two months to say what substance was in the bag dispatched from the shared British Cycling-Team Sky medical facility in Manchester.

There was no paper trail or written evidence to substantiate a claim by Brailsford that the product couriered was Fluimucil, a brand name for a legal decongestant containing acetylcysteine used for clearing mucus. The committee now says that Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman, who failed to log Wiggins’ use of an unlicensed product, can no longer confirm it was Fluimucil and he was “the only reported source of this information.”

The U.K. Anti-Doping Agency said in November that its investigation into whether the product was in fact the corticosteroid triamcinolone was hampered by a lack of accurate medical records but it decided not to issue charges. UKAD said it would re-open the investigation if new evidence emerged.

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CORTICOSTEROIDS … TO LEAN DOWN

The parliamentary committee said it received material from a “well-placed and respected source” about the use of triamcinolone, specifically that “Wiggins was using these drugs beyond the requirement for any TUE,” which allows athletes to use otherwise-banned substances because of a verified medical need.

Wiggins and a smaller group of riders trained away from the rest of Team Sky while preparing for the 2012 season, according to the legislators, who report: “The source said they were all using corticosteroids out of competition to lean down in preparation for the major races that season.”

The digital, culture, media and sports select committee said it was told in writing by Wiggins’ former coach, Shane Sutton, that “what Brad was doing was unethical but not against the rules” by taking triamcinolone.

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OPEN TO ABUSE

A leak by the Russian-linked hackers Fancy Bears in 2016 showed that Wiggins gained a therapeutic use exemption to have the anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone injected on three specific occasions before the 2011 and 2012 Tours and the 2013 Giro D’Italia.

The British legislators found the TUE system was “open to abuse” by using products “to achieve a peak level of physical condition in the athlete, rather than returning them to a normal state of health.”

While Wiggins’ use of a TUE “does not constitute a violation of the WADA code,” the report said, “it does cross the ethical line that David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky.

“In this case, and contrary to the testimony of David Brailsford in front of the committee, we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules, to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”

TUEs were granted up to 2014 based on the assessment by a doctor from both the team and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Now a TUE committee of independent medics gives approval.

“The TUE system needs to be kept under permanent review, but the question inevitably remains, that if an athlete is so ill that they can only compete using a drug that is otherwise banned during competition, then why are they competing at all?” the legislators wrote.

The committee called on WADA to introduce a complete ban on the use of corticosteroids and the painkiller Tramadol by athletes.

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DO IT CLEAN

Team Sky said it remained committed to allowing riders to “do it clean.” But the parliamentary report said claims by Team Sky coaches and managers that they were largely unaware of the medical methods “seem incredible, and inconsistent with their original aim of ‘winning clean,’ and maintaining the highest ethical standards.”

“How can David Brailsford ensure that his team is performing to his requirements, if he does not know and cannot tell what drugs the doctors are giving the riders?” the committee report added.

Wiggins has previously said he sought permission to use triamcinolone to treat his asthma to ensure he was “back on a level playing field” with competitors rather than to seek an unfair advantage.

Discussing the parliamentary report, Wiggins said on Monday: “I find it so sad that accusations can be made, where people can be accused of things they have never done which are then regarded as facts. I strongly refute the claim that any drug was used without medical need.”

Team Sky said it had already addressed the need to strengthen medical record keeping and denounced any suggestions they deceived the system as “unfair both to the team and to the riders.” The team denied a “serious claim that medication has been used by the team to enhance performance.”

“The report also includes an allegation of widespread Triamcinolone use by Team Sky riders ahead of the 2012 Tour de France,” the team statement said. “Again, we strongly refute this allegation.”

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BRITISH CYCLING FAILURES

British Cycling said the “failures” identified by the parliamentary report had already been addressed by an overhaul prompted by evidence heard in public hearings. The sport’s national governing body said there are now “clear boundaries and distinctions” between them and Team Sky, with no one simultaneously employed by both organizations.

Freeman, who held dual roles as doctor at Team Sky and British Cycling between 2009 and 2015, is being investigated by the General Medical Council, which is responsible for the behavior of medical practitioners.

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Peter Sagan cleared over Tour de France disqualification

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PARIS (AP) — The UCI ruled Tuesday that Peter Sagan did not intentionally elbow Mark Cavendish during a sprint finish at the Tour de France in a crash that led to the Slovak rider’s disqualification.

The governing body of cycling said in a statement that it has ended its legal dispute with the three-time world champion, a few hours before a scheduled hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sagan was sent home from the three-week race after clashing with his British rival during the fourth stage (video here). The incident forced Cavendish to abandon with a broken shoulder.

Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team immediately appealed the race jury’s decision to allow its rider to finish the race but the request was denied by CAS.

“Having considered the materials submitted in the CAS proceedings, including video footage that was not available at the time when the race jury had disqualified Peter Sagan, the parties agreed that the crash was an unfortunate and unintentional race incident,” the UCI said.

UCI president David Lappartient said lessons will be drawn from the case and wants a “support commissaire” to assist race jury members “with special video expertise” at the main events of the UCI World Tour from next season.

“The past is already forgotten. It’s all about improving our sport in the future,” Sagan said. “I am happy that my case will lead to positive developments, because it is important for our sport to make fair and comprehensible decisions, even if emotions are sometimes heated up.”

Sagan’s explanation for extending his right elbow into Cavendish’s path was that he was just trying to stay upright.

The crash occurred about 50 meters from the end of the stage and Cavendish slammed into the barriers along the road, with two other riders plowing over the British sprint specialist, a winner of 30 Tour stages.

Cavendish said at the time his rival’s move didn’t appear malicious.

“It has always been our goal to make clear that Peter had not caused Mark Cavendish’s fall. This was Peter’s position from Day 1,” Bora-Hansgrohe manager Ralph Denk said. “No one wants riders to fall or get hurt but the incident in Vittel was a race accident as can happen in the course of a sprint.”

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