For almost two decades Stephanie McIlvain, a marketing rep for Oakley sunglasses, dutifully trailed Armstrong on the cycling circuit, providing him with the latest eyewear and clothing from the manufacturer and becoming one of his confidants. She flew on private planes with him and delivered sunglasses to him etched with the word livestrong. At charity events she and Armstrong were photographed on the red carpet arm in arm, with their spouses alongside.
On Oct. 2, 1996, Armstrong, then 25, was found to have stage III testicular cancer. Twenty-five days later McIlvain was one of several people by Armstrong's side as he recovered from surgery at a hospital in Indianapolis. What was said there has long been in dispute. It was a key part of a 2005 arbitration hearing in a suit filed by Armstrong and Tailwind against SCA Promotions, Inc., and Hamman Insurance Services, Inc., after SCA withheld a $5 million bonus from Armstrong because of doping allegations made against him in the book LA Confidentiel, written by British cycling journalist David Walsh and published in French. In a sworn deposition Betsy Andreu, wife of Frankie Andreu, a longtime teammate of Armstrong's, said that she and several others, including McIlvain, were with Armstrong in a conference room at Indiana University Medical Center, watching the Cowboys play the Dolphins on television, when two hospital doctors walked in to discuss Armstrong's medical history with him. According to Betsy Andreu's statement, Armstrong was asked, "Have you ever done any performance-enhancing drugs?" By Andreu's account, Armstrong said yes and then listed them: EPO, growth hormone, cortisone, steroids and testosterone.
In a separate sworn statement, Frankie Andreu corroborated his wife's recollection. McIlvain, however, refuted it in her deposition, saying she never heard Armstrong admit to taking PEDs. In his deposition Armstrong said that no one from the hospital asked him if he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs or substances. The case was settled before it went to a panel of judges. SCA Promotions paid Armstrong the bonus plus lawyers' costs and fees—a total of $7.5 million.
For years Armstrong has disparaged Betsy Andreu's testimony, telling SI in 2007 that Andreu was motivated by "bitterness, jealousy and hatred" and claiming to The Guardian a year later, "Betsy blogs 24 hours a day about me. If that ain't sick, what is?" For her part, Andreu says, "Soon after I testified, I realized why people were so afraid of Lance. The vast majority of American journalists bought the Lance lie hook, line and sinker, and either dismissed the truth I spoke or were openly hostile toward me. The cycling world was filled with fans and people within the industry insulting me, questioning my motives or inventing outright lies about me. The sheer quality and quantity of the vitriol was overwhelming at times... . I wasn't going to compromise my integrity. I didn't decide to 'take Lance on,' I decided not to lie for him; there's a difference."
McIlvain's testimony certainly helped Armstrong. But according to Betsy Andreu, three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and cycling journalist James Startt, McIlvain told them that she had in fact heard Armstrong say what the Andreus recounted. In a phone conversation with LeMond 14 months before the SCA deposition, secretly taped by LeMond, McIlvain is heard saying, in reference to Armstrong's statement, "You know I was in that room. I heard it, you know." She also says of Armstrong, "So many people [are] protecting him that it is just sickening, you know."
McIlvain did not return calls for comment, but in 2007 she told SI, "I do stand by my [court] testimony." At the time of the conversation with LeMond, she said, she was "in a bad place in my life." She added, "I've never seen Lance Armstrong do drugs, never heard of him doing drugs."
As part of their inquiry, federal investigators have reviewed all the documents, tapes and information related to the SCA arbitration hearing. In September, McIlvain appeared before the grand jury in Los Angeles under subpoena. Her deposition in the SCA case had lasted 103 minutes; her appearance in the federal inquiry lasted seven hours.
Pinpricks to the finger were an off-day ritual for the Motorola team during the 1995 Tour de France. This wasn't a blood brothers' sacrament—but it was close to that for those riders who participated. According to Stephen Swart, a cyclist on the team, they were preparing to check their hematocrit levels (percentage of red cells) to determine how much of the banned blood-boosting drug EPO to inject. Swart says that on a recovery ride after a race in Italy that March, Armstrong, disappointed with the team's result, had suggested that riders start taking EPO, which was banned by the IOC in 1990. "He was the instigator," Swart says. "It was his words that pushed us toward doing it. It was his advice, his discussions."
Frankie Andreu, another member of the Motorola team, who participated in the conversation between Armstrong and Swart in Italy, says the Texan "determined what riders were hired and fired. Everybody knew he was calling the shots. You didn't want to get on his bad side. He was the boss."
Swart, who admits to having taken EPO when he rode with Motorola, says that blood-testing machines no bigger than a toaster would be brought into a hotel room. One by one, a half-dozen cyclists, including Armstrong, would prick a finger, put the blood into a vial and place it in a centrifuge. The red blood cells would separate from the white ones, and the machine would measure the rider's hematocrit level. The readings were important in helping regulate the intake of EPO, a drug that can cause the body to produce so many oxygen-carrying red cells that the blood can thicken and the user can suffer a stroke.