Lance Armstrong for years has denied allegations that he confessed to cancer doctors about using performance-enhancing drugs.
The allegations, never proved, did not diminish the seven-time Tour de France winner as he built his sporting legend beyond cycling to become a leader in the fight against cancer and inspiring trust and hope through his "Livestrong" foundation.
Now, one of his close associates, Stephanie McIlvain, has been summoned to appear before a federal grand jury in Los Angeles on Wednesday to clarify what he said to those doctors. McIlvain, a longtime liaison to Armstrong for Oakley Inc., one of his major sponsors, was there.
In a 2005 deposition in an unrelated civil case, McIlvain testified she never heard Armstrong admit anything about using performance-enhancing drugs in that hospital room in 1996.
In a secretly recorded telephone chat with former Tour de France champion Greg LeMond — allegedly conducted a year earlier — McIlvain is asked about the hospital incident and tells LeMond she heard "it," though she never specifies what "it" is. The recording is in the hands of federal prosecutors and The Times has reviewed it.
Scrutinizing McIlvain's accounts will be the focus of her scheduled appearance in front of the grand jury, which is looking into allegations of rampant drug use in cycling, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation but who declined to go on the record because federal law prohibits discussion of the secret proceedings.
The grand jury is also looking into allegations by former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis that Armstrong and other riders on the now-defunct U.S. Postal Service team facilitated drug use, according to the source and others.
Armstrong, who has not been subpoenaed, has repeatedly denied ever using drugs.
McIlvain, in her conversation with LeMond, criticized Armstrong, who at the time was in the midst of his record run of Tour de France titles after overcoming cancer.
Although she doesn't specifically connect Armstrong to drug use, over the course of the 30-minute conversation, McIlvain refers to Armstrong as a liar but never clarifies what she accuses him of lying about.
LeMond taped McIlvain without her knowledge, but law expert Laurie Levenson told The Times last week that single-party consent tapings are presentable in federal cases.
"So many people protect him that it's just sickening," McIlvain told LeMond on the tape, adding she "can't even watch" his then-run for a sixth title. McIlvain's son has autism, and she told LeMond on the tape it bothered her that Armstrong had been portrayed as an inspirational athlete.
"He's giving how many people false hope?" McIlvain asked LeMond. "[It's] the most disgusting thing ever for someone to do. Coming as someone whose son has a handicap, you look to people for hope and strength. That kills me."
McIlvain, who lives in Orange County, has declined to return several messages left by The Times. Her attorney, Tom Bienert, did not return messages Tuesday but told The Times last week that LeMond had an "agenda" and was "attempting to get people to say things that are incriminating."
On the tape McIlvain said of Armstrong "even his best friend" [who goes unnamed in the recording] is aware "he's on it." She closes by saying, "I'd love for it to come out."
The allegations that Armstrong had confessed in 1996 were first raised by his former teammate Frankie Andreu and Andreu's wife, Betsy, who also were in the Indianapolis hospital room. She says she repeated that account to federal investigator Jeff Novitzky, who works for the Food and Drug Administration and was the chief investigator in the BALCO steroids scandal.
A member of Armstrong's legal team, Mark Fabiani, said Tuesday in an e-mail that, "It makes no sense to waste the money of taxpayers and the time of the FDA and the grand jury on very old issues that were long ago fully examined. Ms. McIlvain has already testified at length under oath in 2005, and the mythical hospital meeting has been completely disproved by both witnesses and medical records."