Lance Armstrong's host for anti-doping meeting before fall from grace? Bill Ritter
In August 2010, then-Governor Bill Ritter joined Lance Armstrong to kick off a glamorous new event in Colorado: a bike race originally dubbed the Quiznos Pro Challenge. But as the race revved up for a second round (now under the name USA Pro Challenge), Armstrong took a back-seat role -- and then disappeared altogether.
He stayed in touch with Ritter, though.
Then-Governor Bill Ritter announcing Colorado's new bike race in 2010.
By last fall, of course, the rumors about Armstrong's doping were becoming far more than rumors -- and in December, he met secretly with U.S. anti-doping authorities, hoping that in exchange for him coming clean, they would allow him to compete in triathlons.
That meeting has been reported. But it wasn't until Friday that the Wall Street Journal revealed who hosted the meeting: Ritter, a bicyclist who'd become friendly with Armstrong after the sports star contacted the then-governor in 2009 with the idea of a multi-day stage race in Colorado that became the USA Pro Challenge. And they'd stayed in touch after Armstrong's fall from grace. In fact, Ritter, who is now director of Colorado State University's Center for the New Energy Economy, offered his Denver office for a meeting with Travis Tygart. Here's the WSJ account:
In October, U.S. anti-doping authorities issued a blistering report accusing the seven-time Tour de France champion Armstrong of being at the center of "a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history."
After Mr. Armstrong declined to cooperate with U.S. anti-doping authorities, or to challenge the case in arbitration, he received a lifetime ban from elite-level sports. That ban precludes Mr. Armstrong from Ironman triathlons, his recent passion.
Late last year, Mr. Ritter stepped in, acting on Mr. Armstrong's behalf. Mr. Ritter reached out to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, and explained to Mr. Tygart that he hoped to encourage Armstrong to cooperate, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Tygart declined to comment.
To Mr. Tygart, cooperation would mean Mr. Armstrong providing help to clean up the sport with a full and truthful account of his doping- including how he doped and who had helped him cover up his doping for so long, according to Usada.
Mr. Armstrong agreed to meet with Mr. Tygart, as the Journal reported in January. It was a tense session that ended without a resolution, according to two people who were there.
What hasn't been reported is that Mr. Ritter not only sat in on the secret meeting, providing friendly support to Armstrong, but also arranged for the two sides to meet at his downtown Denver office.
Reached by phone Wednesday night, as he was boarding a plane to Washington, D.C., Mr. Ritter said he hadn't provided Mr. Armstrong with legal advice. Tim Herman, a lawyer for Mr. Armstrong, said Mr. Ritter was "a pure host, who let us meet at his office, which was a neutral place."
Unlike many athletes, Mr. Armstrong has had no shortage of friendly relationships with influential current and former government officials, mostly Democrats. They include former President Bill Clinton, with whom he has shared the stage at the Clinton Global Initiative, and Secretary of State John Kerry, himself a cyclist, with whom Mr. Armstrong has ridden in cancer fundraisers.
Mr. Armstrong also has a plethora of lawyers looking out for his interests as his legal worries mount. He's recently been represented by Robert Luskin and Patrick Slevin at Patton Boggs in Washington; John Keker and Elliot Peters at Keker & Van Nest, San Francisco; Bryan Daly at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton in Los Angeles; and Mark Levinstein of Williams & Connolly. And there's his Austin-based attorney Mr. Herman, who has represented Mr. Armstrong for roughly nine years.
In recent months, Mr. Armstrong has been hit with at least four lawsuits, stemming from his televised admission that he doped during his cycling career. In addition, the Justice Department last month joined a federal whistleblower lawsuit aimed at clawing back sponsorship money. The lawsuit was filed by Mr. Armstrong's former teammate Floyd Landis in 2010.
Mr. Armstrong's lawyer Mr. Herman declined to comment Wednesday on the merits of the lawsuits.
From our archives: "Lance Armstrong doping-fight dropout and disappearance from USA Pro Challenge."