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No big bad wolf behind Lance Armstrong investigation

October 31, 2012
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When I arrived at attorney Bill Bock’s office in the Chase Tower on Oct. 22, I didn’t meet the person I expected.

Yes, it was Bock, the lead attorney for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and one of two people chiefly responsible for stripping Lance Armstrong of seven Tour de France titles.

But it wasn’t the aggressive, vindictive ax grinder that I thought might sit across the table from me in his ninth-floor office overlooking Monument Circle. And he wasn’t glowing even though just four hours before our meeting, the International Cycling Union had upheld USADA’s Armstrong findings.

The case was more than two years in the making. Bock, a 50-year-old partner in the Indianapolis law firm of Kroger Gardis & Regas, had worked a succession of 100-hour weeks to make Armstrong’s fall from grace happen. The case was making headlines worldwide. He had reason to glow, perhaps even gloat.

He did neither.

Bock smiled and was friendly, but that, I would discover through the course of our nearly three-hour interview, had more to do with his gentle nature than any pride he took in taking down Armstrong.

In the 10 days that I researched the story, I couldn’t find a single person who had a bad thing to say about Bock, and that included people working for sports sanctioning bodies and the athletes he investigated. Armstrong could not be reached for comment.

Some of those athletes who testified against Armstrong said it was Bock’s honesty and empathy that pulled the truth out of them. And in many cases the truth was hidden under a mountain of lies built over more than a decade.

Even active professional riders who feared their career would be ended by what cyclists call the Omerta, a mafia-style group of riders, trainers, doctors and team owners who rule the European pro ranks, spilled their guts to Bock and Tygart.

When Bock, a summa cum laude graduate of Oral Roberts University who later earned a law degree from the University of Michigan, visited Frankie Andreu, a former Armstrong teammate, at his home in Michigan last spring, his wife, Betsy, said she found Bock to be comforting during a difficult situation.

“All he ever said was we only want the truth,” said Betsy, who also testified against Armstrong.

I was stunned.

As a competitive cyclist and distance runner myself for more than 30 years, I had mixed emotions about Bock—and his boss, USADA CEO Travis Tygart—before I ever met or talked to either.

I always knew it was possible, but I didn’t want to believe Armstrong could be guilty of all the things for which he was accused. The facts that Bock and Tygart uncovered were even worse than most inside or outside the sport could have imagined. USADA’s investigation showed that Armstrong not only took myriad performance-enhancing drugs, he also insisted his teammates do the same—all so he could take the glory.

Even so, there was a side of me that wondered if Tygart and Bock only sought to take down a big fish, to make a name for themselves. And if they used Armstrong to do it. I had seen Tygart on numerous national talk shows and interviewed by the biggest media outlets. Was I now, in some small way, doing the same for Bock, shining a spotlight on him for wrecking the career and legacy of another?

So I asked Bock why he pursued someone like Armstrong who was already out of the sport.

The reason was simple, Bock said. Not only was Armstrong still involved in triathlons and running, but he also was still profiting from sponsorships associated with his cycling career. Besides, Bock and Tygart were eager to make the point that no one is above the rules.

“We’ve never dropped a case simply because someone retired,” Bock said. “If we did that, we’d have a lot of retirements.”

Bock also hopes that the resulting action against Armstrong—which includes s lifetime ban from cycling, running and triathlon events—will help put an end to the organized doping that has poisoned cycling and other endurance athletics.

Then there’s this: Based on USADA’s findings, Bock said it’s clear that many of the same dope dealers feeding the pro ranks are also doling out drugs to amateurs. And age, it appears, serves no barrier to getting these doping products, which more than a few doctors have said can have dire consequences to users’ long-term health.

The entire investigation came from a small tip to USADA about doping among professional and amateur cyclists in Southern California.

It all made sense.

But one thing didn’t jibe: Bock’s feelings about the man he pursued like an outlaw in the Wild West.

You’d think after all the things Bock discovered about Armstrong, he’d have an ocean of disdain for the disgraced cyclist.

He did not.

Though Bock was careful in discussing his personal feelings about Armstrong, it’s clear that he is conflicted, not about what he deserves as a drug cheat, but about how the ordeal will affect him and his family. It hasn’t escaped Bock that Armstrong—like himself—is the father of five.

“In some ways I feel bad for him. I’m sure this has been a difficult few weeks for him—and his family,” Bock said.
 
While Tygart and Bock would never be accused of going easy on Armstrong, Bock said they treaded lightly when it came to involving witnesses, specifically Armstrong’s ex-wife Kristen, where children were involved.

“I cannot go into every legal and investigative choice we made as some aspects of the decisions made get into areas of attorney-client and investigative privilege,” Bock explained. “However, with respect to Kristen I can say that a contributing factor in the decision not to seek an interview with her was that the couple has three young children and we foresaw a possibility that an interview could complicate the relationship between the estranged parents and potentially adversely affect the children.”

In a book written by Armstrong’s former teammate Tyler Hamilton—who also provided testimony for USADA—Kristen is implicated as an accomplice in the doping scheme.

While Bock’s heart may go out to Armstrong, he points out that the cancer survivor and cycling legend only made things worse on himself.

“We offered him the chance to come in and get on the right side of this,” Bock said. “He declined.”

As I was finding out, there was no big bad wolf that blew Armstrong’s fiefdom down. There was just a relentless soul in search of an elusive truth.

Tygart said of Bock, “[He] deserves the MVP for clean sport.”

After meeting and researching the man, I wouldn’t disagree.

Still, it saddens me that there’s a need for such a man in cycling—or any sport.

To read IBJ’s recent article about Bock, click here.




 

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