US investigators are making headway into the Lance Armstrong doping investigation, according to participants of meetings this week in Lyon, France.

“This is no joke,” one official told the Associated Press. “This is serious, this is hard-nose. It was not a sightseeing trip.”

The Associated Press spoke with some of the officials who attended or who were briefed on the meeting with US investigators on Tuesday and Wednesday. The officials talked on condition of anonymity because the US investigators asked that the meeting not be discussed publicly.

The meeting took place at the international police headquarters, Interpol in Lyon. It attended by representatives from France, Spain and Italy, countries where Armstrong lived or trained. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criminal investigator Jeff Novitzky led the US delegation. He travelled with US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, Assistant US attorney Doug Miller, his co-counsel Mark Williams and FBI special agent Olivier Faraole.

Novitzky’s investigation intensified in April when Armstrong’s former team-mate, Floyd Landis alleged widespread doping use in Armstrong’s former US Postal team. In the US, some of Armstrong’s former team-mates have testified in front of a grand jury. Armstrong’s long-time sponsors, Nike, Oakley and Trek, have also supplied information.

Novitzky’s focus turned international in July when, according to Italian prosecutor Benedetto Roberti, there was a similar meeting in Europe.

“This is a very complex procedure,” said one European official from this week’s meeting, “and it can only work within a judicial frame.”

Novitzky subpoenaed Armstrong’s team-mate, Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych on October 22. Popovych rode on team Discovery Channel and helped Armstrong win his seventh consecutive Tour de France in July 2005. Popovych raced with Armstrong again at team Astana last year and at team RadioShack this year.

He lives in Italy, but was subpoenaed when he was in Austin, Texas, for Armstrong’s Livestrong Challenge ride. He stayed in the US and testified on November 3.

Roberti said that he ordered a raid of Popovych’s home in Italy one week ago on November 11 to help with the Armstrong investigation. Policed seized mobile telephones and a computer, evidence they handed over to Novitzky in Lyon.

“He’s going through all of Europe’s trash cans. And sometimes you find things in a trash can,” said another participant, a police officer, of Novitzky.

“They need supplemental proof to back up everything they have gathered,” he said. “As we say in our jargon, they have some marbles to play with.”

Armstrong spokesperson Mark Fabiani, however, said European trip was a waste of time and money.

“American taxpayer money is being squandered on a European trip for FDA investigators to dredge up old allegations that have already been thoroughly examined and completely discredited,” said Fabiani. “All of Lance’s samples were clean when they were first provided and tested, and no amount of tax-money-wasting European meetings can change that fundamental fact.”

Armstrong, 39, denies Landis’ allegations and that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career.

He initially retired after he won the Tour de France for the seventh time in 2005, but he returned to cycling last year. He finished third at the Tour de France and raced it again this year, finishing 23rd.

He announced last month that his last race outside of the US will be at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia, in January 2011.

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  • chris borrmann

    They keep going after Armstong but lets us not forget that in Operacion Puerto 144 sportsmen and women were never investigated. So it seems that sports like football. tennis and others got away with doping. As for Contador why take drugs when he knows he will be tested.

  • Navaré

    A little too much “Hate the Player. Don’t hate the game.” in some of the comments. Why not take a closer look at cycling and why so many resort to doping knowing full well the consequences and likelihood of getting caught? Rather than attack and berate the cyclist who confess, or get caught and confess, or who get caught and don’t confess, and those that do confess and then retract, why don’t you see it for what it is? Regardless of the sport or business, the ones that win are the ones who work the system, find the loopholes, and sometimes cross the ‘blurred’ edges of accepatbility. There are many innocent people in jail, and just as many guilty walking free. Do we hate the Law, or do we hate lawyers?

  • John

    Orland, haven’t we all worked out the code yet? Whenever we hear “I never failed a test” without a statement that doping is wrong, then we need to be suspicious. Dopers who passed the tests include Millar, Museeuw, Riis, Ullrich, Virenque, Andreu, Mr ‘I tried it once and didn’t like it’ Zabel, Rasmussen, Basso, Chiappucci (confessed, then retracted), Aldag, Holm, Bolts, Frank “it’s for my dog’ Vandenbroucke, Di Luca, Scarponi, etc, etc, etc.
    Interestingly, dopers rarely have the cojones to state loudly and publicly that doping is cheating, and therefore is wrong and something they would never do. It generally seems to be a lie too far.

  • Lucas

    “sickening that Lance is investigated in this way” Why? Is he to be spared from justice, if he has cheated, just cos he is the great god Lance Armstrong?
    Riis is still reviled by many on a vareity of forums for his past deeds, conveniently forgeting that he also never tested positive, despite him confessing and offering his yellow jersey back.
    Seems like double standards to me.

  • Matthew

    Orlando, for the 348,329th time Lance has tested positive.

    “All of Lance’s samples were clean when they were first provided and tested.”
    Agree with Michael, this is different phrasing and subtly different from what we’ve heard previously from the Armstrong camp. He stops well short of saying ‘Lance has never taken performance enhancing drugs’.

  • Michael

    I love Fabiani’s comments that “all of Lance’s samples were clean when they were first provided and tested” How true that is. However he is conveniently forgetting some of these samples have proven to not be clean during subsequent testing. That too, is a fundamental fact.

  • Dave Leubbers

    Orlando, you forgot to turn your BS-detector on yourself. Lance has amassed tremendous wealth and fame because of his success in cycling. Do you think cheating should pay? I agree that everyone dopes, but Lance is the one who reaped the greatest rewards. He ought to be the primary target. Why should should retirement protect him? Why should we allow him to slink away with all his millions and his hero worshippers and his merchandising-and-appearance-fee-milking charity going strong?

    And btw, the Contador fiasco is *not* being swept under the carpet. Quite the opposite: he currently stands to lose his title and face suspension. If the same testing and scrutiny had been brought against Lance at his peak, we would not be having this discussion, because Lance’s career would have ended after three titles.

  • Orlando

    I find i sickening that Lance is investigated in this way, when he’s no longer racing and his career is in the past, specially as he never tested positive. I don’t think he’s an angel, but if they strip his titles, they’ll go to someone who was just as juiced as he was… NOW, Contador tests positive, is implicated in the Puerto case, and yet it all gets swept under the carpet…