Contrary to his public statements, Lance Armstrong will not be the first one through the door of the UCI’s Truth & Reconciliation commission.
According to several sources, Armstrong, the disgraced former winner of seven Tours de France, will not testify about doping at US Postal and the alleged complicity of the UCI. However, in an odd twist, his Spanish alter ego Juan Pelota is prepared to give evidence.
“Lance will not be available, but Juan will speak for him,” said UCI anti-doping chief Emile Lesblagues. “He has promised to tell us everything and hold nothing back.”
According to at least one legal expert, the personality switch may be a clever tactical ploy by Armstrong to avoid further litigation based on his new testimony. “This is smart, a brilliant end-around,” said Philip Laffing, a professor of international law at Texas A&M. “Now he’s free to say whatever he wants without fear of compromising his on-going financial battles. He can argue, ‘Hey, I didn’t say that, Juan Pelota did.’ He’s using a fictional character to distance himself from any legal blowback.”
It’s a strategy that may well work. When contacted, an official at WADA stated that Juan Pelota’s testimony would in fact be considered valid evidence. “It’s well known that Pelota was an alias for Lance Armstrong. That’s factual evidence,” said Klaus Jokberger. “We would consider Pelota’s statement to be identical to those of Armstrong.”
In documents submitted to the UCI in advance of the Truth & Reconciliation panel, Armstrong’s lawyers are apparently ready to argue that while Armstrong and Pelota are “related,” and share a “common set of experiences in pro cycling,” the two cannot legally be connected to the Federal whistleblower lawsuit launched by Floyd Landis or the SCA promotions case. Financial damages in those two cases could total as much as $100 million.”
The role of Juan Pelota in the US Postal doping conspiracy and his knowledge of alleged complicity or coverups by the UCI is an open and confusing debate. He has become a wildcard in an increasingly strange and complicated legal battle fought on several fronts.
“I mean, fundamentally, who is Juan Pelota?” asks Will Taltail, an intellectual property analyst for Omicom Entertainment. “He’s a fabrication yet he represents one of the most famous athletes in the world. He’s a twitter creation but everybody knows it’s really Lance. Has anybody ever seen Pelota and Armstrong in the same room at the same time? Can Lance get Johan Bruyneel or Matthew McConaughey or Sheryl Crow to say Pelota exists? Can they dig up some Spanish guy to show up at UCI headquarters? It’s a huge can of worms and frankly, I think Lance has found a way to finally win this whole thing — “I didn’t do it, Juan did.”
However, the use of Pelota may pose an added legal danger for Armstrong. “Lance’s problem is that he is viewed as an uncaring egomaniac,” said Eric Maslow, a clinical psychiatrist at Cornel University. “Juan Pelota, Mellow Johnny — he can’t have one personality, he has to have three. It’s simply more evidence of a man who has lost perspective. I would be wary of using Pelota to save Armstrong.”
The United States Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart issued a statement today decrying the Pelota Ploy. “It’s another disingenuous act by Armstrong who has repeatedly refused all invitations to tell the whole truth,” said Tygart. “It’s a Spanish smokescreen and we believe people see right through that.”
The sporting implications of Lance’s alter ego may also allow him a loophole in his lifetime ban from professional sports.”You can kick Lance out of an Ironman and out of a Master Swimming event, but can you kick out Juan Pelota? I don’t think so,” said Alan Foolmen, a former race director for USA Cycling. “Juan gets Lance back in the game.”
Should Armstrong make use of his Pelota personality to jump back into Ironman competitions, the next question becomes whether sponsors will follow. “That’s a tough call and I’m sure Lance’s people are sending out feelers to Nike and Oakley,” said sports rep Alicia Harmond. “You have to remember, there are 53 million hispanic people in the United States — that’s 17% of the population and that’s a market every company wants to tap. Juan Pelota may be an extremely viable return-strategy for Lance.”
It remains to be seen how the Pelota gambit will play out in the court of international sports law. What’s clear is that Lance isn’t talking but Juan is.