Lance Armstrong. (Photo by Gail Oskin/Getty Images)
By Brent Schrotenboer, USA TODAY
Lance Armstrong might have retained most of his cycling titles if he had cooperated with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's investigation, USADA head Travis Tygart says in a Sunday interview with USA TODAY Sports.
On Friday, USADA hit Armstrong with a lifetime ban and stripped him of all cycling results since 1998, which includes his seven titles in the Tour de France from 1999-2005. USADA charged that Armstrong used banned drugs and blood transfusions to gain an advantage, and sanctioned him when he declined to fight the case.
The statute of limitations for such charges is eight years, but it can be extended in cases involving a cover-up. USADA determined that Armstrong and others fraudulently concealed their doping, dating to the 1990s.
If Armstrong had "come in and been truthful, then the evidence might have been that the statute (of limitations) should apply," Tygart says, adding that "would have been fine by us." Tygart confirmed that would have meant USADA stripping Armstrong of only two of his seven titles, in 2004 and '05.
Tygart, the agency's chief executive officer, also says Armstrong's lifetime ban could be revisited if he comes clean about doping in cycling.
The agency would've reduced Armstrong's punishment "if he would have been truthful and willing to meet to help the sport move forward for the good," Tygart says. "Of course, this is still possible and we always remain open, because while the truth hurts, ultimately, from what we have seen in these types of cases, acknowledging the truth is the best way forward."
Armstrong's attorneys say USADA cannot sanction him - the International Cycling Union (UCI) holds such power, they argue.
Tygart stood by USADA's authority in the matter and says the World Anti-Doping Agency and UCI can appeal.
"Unless and until it is appealed and overturned, then under the world rules, it must be imposed," Tygart said.
Both sides of the controversy have reported a crush of strong reactions, mostly positive, though there have been some disturbing threats, too.
Since Friday, when USADA announced the penalties, Armstrong's Livestrong foundation for cancer survivors has received about 1,700 donations for a total of about $174,000, according to spokeswoman Katherine McLane. The prior daily average had been about $3,000. By comparison, Livestrong had 42 donations on Thursday.
Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman said the response has been "overwhelming" since Armstrong decided announced Thursday night he would not fight doping charges by USADA.
Tygart said Sunday the response in support of Livestrong was "completely understandable."
"We are all crushed when our sports heroes disappoint us," Tygart told USA TODAY Sports. "I have had a few communications with disappointed people about how deeply sorry we are for the decisions made by those involved with the (Armstrong) doping conspiracy and the facts we were handed. But they seem to appreciate the difficult but important job we have to do for clean athletes and the integrity of competition."
Tygart said USADA has received "an outpouring of support" from current and former athletes at all levels.
"Parents and others who value the rights of clean athletes and the integrity of sport have e-mailed, called and shown their appreciation for us doing our job," Tygart said. "Of course, we have also received some disturbing e-mails and threats. At the end of the day, we do our job based on the evidence - nothing more and nothing less."
Armstrong said he "played by the rules" but gave up the fight because USADA was conducting an unfair investigation with "zero physical evidence." He said he'd rather spend time on other causes, such as his family and foundation.
USADA's case against Armstrong was built primarily on witness testimony and blood samples indicative of doping. While Armstrong says he passed hundreds of drug tests, Tygart says Armstrong's doping included using banned drugs that were not detectable in tests. He also said there is no test for prohibited blood transfusions - which USADA said Armstrong used to gain an edge on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team.
In announcing his decision, Armstrong criticized the witness testimony USADA obtained from other riders.
USADA "allegedly made deals with other riders that circumvent their own rules as long as they said I cheated (in exchange for their testimony)," Armstrong said in his statement Thursday. He noted that many of those riders continue to race and said they cut "sweetheart deals" for themselves out of spite or for personal gain.
Asked about the deals Sunday, Tygart said USADA "will be announcing the consequences and other details on other riders in the coming weeks."
Armstrong has said Tygart has a vendetta against him - which Tygart says is "totally baseless and untrue." Tygart said Armstrong has tried to claim he has a personal issue with Armstrong as a diversionary tactic. Tygart calls it "baselessly attacking those who are just doing their job."