The first contact between Lance Armstrong's lawyers and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was brief and confrontational. In late May, USADA asked if Armstrong would be willing to cooperate with its investigation into his drug use. The answer was no.
Had he said yes at the time, it is possible that Armstrong, since banned for life from Olympic sports, could have finished a six-month suspension by now. Attorneys familiar with the case say Armstrong missed several chances to escape with either a six-month ban before he was charged by USADA with doping and trafficking, or a two-year ban after. Instead of pleading his case on "Oprah and Lance: The Worldwide Exclusive," Armstrong could have been training for an Ironman.
Armstrong, 41, ended up with the lifetime ban after he decided not to contest the trafficking charge. Had he been charged merely with doping, he could have declined to fight and still received only a two-year ban. But attorneys familiar with the process say it is likely Armstrong could have escaped with a six-month ban had he cooperated, as his former teammate George Hincapie did.
"He made a lot of bad decisions throughout," said one attorney, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the conversations. "But it's unlikely [USADA] could have gotten more than six months."
Even after USADA filed its charges against him in June, Armstrong was asked whether he would accept a deal that would require him to stipulate to the doping charges, if USADA was willing to drop the trafficking charge, and agree to a two-year ban. At the time, a source said, Armstrong said yes. Another source said USADA officials were willing to make such a deal at the time, recognizing that the trafficking charge was not as strong as the rest of the agency's case.
But it never happened.
Instead, within days Armstrong's attorneys released a letter that blasted USADA. His representatives then appealed to members of Congress, the U.S. Olympic Committee and, finally, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas that was dismissed.
Ultimately, Armstrong declined to fight the charges, accepting the penalties. If he is willing to offer details of what longtime confidants knew about his doping program, he might be able to return to triathlon. When he is 49.