'Lance encouraged doping'
New York - A former teammate of Lance Armstrong has reportedly backed claims by disgraced cycling champion Floyd Landis that Armstrong took part in and encouraged doping within the US Postal team.
A New York Times report said an ex-teammate of Armstrong, who wished to remain anonymous, had spoken with investigators detailing "some of his own drug use, as well as the widespread cheating that he said went on as part of the Postal Service team - all of which he said was done with Armstrong's knowledge and encouragement."
The report said the rider in question "has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs or methods" and "asked that his name not be used because investigators advised him not to speak publicly about the information he provided".
Armstrong is credited with one of the greatest comebacks in sport after beating testicular cancer in 1998 and going on to win the first of his seven consecutive Tour titles a year later.
However, those achievements now seem under threat from a federal investigation launched in the wake of Landis's allegations that US Postal used systematic doping practices to gain an edge over their rivals.
Landis, the 2006 Tour winner who was stripped of his title for doping, levelled the accusations against Armstrong several months ago when he finally ended four years of denials by confessing to doping throughout his career.
Since then several of Armstrong's former employees and teammates have been contacted by federal investigators.
A lawyer for American George Hincapie, Zia F. Modabber, said in July that former US Postal rider Hincapie was likely to talk to investigators once the Tour was over.
Another former US Postal rider, Tyler Hamilton, is currently serving an eight-year ban for using performance-enhancing drugs.
The Times report claimed that Hamilton's lawyer, Chris Manderson, said Hamilton had received a grand jury subpoena but did not say whether Hamilton had already provided testimony.
The federal investigation is being led by Jeff Novitzky, a special agent for the Food and Drug Administration.
Novitzky forged his reputation as drugs-buster when he led a successful probe into the BALCO doping scandal, which ultimately led to a prison term for former athletics queen Marion Jones.
Armstrong, who has never tested positive, has categorically denied the allegations and said that Landis has no credibility.
At the end of his final Tour de France appearance last month, Armstrong said he would deny any involvement in doping "as long as I live".
Bryan D. Daly, Armstrong's defence lawyer, said any cyclists who claim that Armstrong doped were not telling the truth.
"They (investigators) just want them to incriminate Lance Armstrong and that's my concern," Daly said, adding that the prosecutors were working closely with the United States Anti-Doping Agency to pressure Armstrong's former teammates.
"To the extent that there's anyone besides Floyd Landis saying things, the bottom line is, if you take away the soap opera and look at the scientific evidence, there is nothing."
A federal prosecutor, Doug Miller, is in charge of the investigation, which is being pushed along because a 10-year statute of limitations on some of the charges they are investigating is set to expire next spring.
The Times report said more riders are expected to meet with the grand jury as early as next week.