Disgraced US cyclist Lance Armstrong has hit back at a federal lawsuit against him and said that his former team overlooked allegations of doping because of a lucrative sponsorship deal.
The Texan rider, who is now in full damage control mode after he admitted to being a drugs cheat in January, asked a US judge in a court filing on Tuesday to dismiss the US Department of Justice’s False Claims Act lawsuit.
Armstrong was riding for the US Postal Service team at the time to which the lawsuit relates.
“Although the government now pretends to be aggrieved by these allegations, its actions at the time are far more telling,” Armstrong’s motion stated. “Did it suspend the team pending an investigation? Did it refer the matter to its phalanx of lawyers and investigators at the Department of Justice for review? It did not.”
“Rather than exercise its right to terminate the sponsorship agreement, it instead renewed its contract to sponsor the team,” the motion added.
“The rationale behind the [US] government’s decision is obvious. Armstrong had recently won the 2000 Tour de France. The government wanted a winner and all the publicity, exposure, and acclaim that goes along with being his sponsor. It got exactly what it bargained for,” it said.
The US government sued on behalf of the US Postal Service, asserting that Armstrong and his teammates, some of whom admitted to doping years ago, committed fraud by using performance-enhancing drugs.
Armstrong has also argued that the government’s case is too old to move forward because it is barred by the six-year statute of limitations.
The US rider, who won the Tour a record seven times between 1999 and 2005, was exposed last year as a serial drug user in a devastating US Anti-Doping Agency report that plunged cycling into crisis.
He was stripped of his Tour titles and banned from the sport for life. He finally admitted in a television interview that he had used a cocktail of banned substances.
Since his admission Armstrong has taken a lower profile. Professional cyclists want nothing to do with him, including this year’s Tour de France winner Chris Froome.
“To compare me with Lance... Lance cheated, I’m not cheating. End of story,” the British rider said last week.
However, Armstrong said fellow riders have been generally supportive of him this week during an annual bike ride across Iowa.
Armstrong is riding part of the week-long event called RAGBRAI, which starts at the Missouri River in western Iowa and ends at the Mississippi River. It is his first extended public appearance on a bike since the doping admission.
Armstrong told the Des Moines Register, which sponsors RAGBRAI, that the event allows him to stay connected with the sport he loves. It is his fifth RAGBRAI and he said the support he has received in years past played a role in his decision to return.
“I’ve been here before, and I know what the people of the state are like, and I know what the riders of RAGBRAI are like,” Armstrong told the newspaper “I didn’t expect a wave of hostility.”