Yaroslav Popovych, the cyclist, was in Austin on Friday, October 22nd to help Lance Armstrong, his former teammate, raise more than $3.1 million that weekend for the fight against cancer in a Livestrong Challenge. But the Ukranian could be forgiven for thinking he was no longer in Texas but back in the former Soviet Union.
Popovych and fellow Radio Shack riders signed autographs at Mellow Johnny's Bike shop that afternoon till about a quarter to six, according to two sources who detailed the extraordinary events of that afternoon. The riders gave interviews to local reporters, and then headed to a Nissan Armada for the drive back to their hotel.
Then the charity event morphed into a scene out of America's Most Wanted. Popovych had already gotten in the car, when a man in professional attire, talking on a cell phone, grabbed the door before he could shut it.
The Radio Shack riders thought he might be a journalist but he did not identify himself. He asked if the rider was Popovych and said he wanted to ask him a few questions, and motioned him out and to the front of the car.
Not knowing what this was all about, the other riders told the driver they had to leave for the hotel. After a moment Popovych asked the man if he could talk to him at the hotel, and walked away from him and climbed back in.
The man sprinted down an alley: This was no journalist. As the Nissan drove off, the man leaped into a maroon SUV. He accelerated and pulled right beside them -- staring into the car. The Nissan drove down Caesar Chavez street, the SUV hot on their tail, the puzzled Radio Shack riders asking a stunned Popovych what it was all about. The Ukranian hadn't understood a lot of what the man had said, other than that he was from Los Angeles.
Ten minutes later, the Nissan turned onto the street in front of the Hyatt Regency on Town Lake. A man dressed all in black with a Bluetooth headset stood in the middle of the street, motioning the Nissan to stop.
The man showed no identification, so the Nissan slowly drove around him. Suddenly a black SUV screeched in front of the Nissan, blocking its path. In came the maroon SUV preventing any escape from the rear. "It was like something out of Starsky and Hutch," said one source.
A casually dressed woman hopped out of the black SUV, flashed a badge and ordered the driver to pull over. The man who'd first approached them came to Popovych's side of the car. One of the riders had called an attorney on a cell phone. But the agent refused to talk to the attorney.
He had to talk with Popovych. He told him to get out of the car, handed him a subpoena, and said he had to appear before the Lance Armstrong grand jury in Los Angeles on November 3rd. If he tried to leave the country, the agent said, he would be arrested.
None of the agents identified themselves or their agency.
Wednesday Yaroslav Popovych testified for approximately 90 minutes before the Lance Armstrong grand jury. Ken Miller, Popovych's attorney, said he didn't understand why the government would serve the Ukranian rider in Austin when he was only supposed to be in the country for four days, only to make him wait for almost two weeks.
"He arrived on October 21st, was served on the 22nd. And then he had to come out for a grand jury appearance on November 3rd," said Miller. "And he doesn't know anything about what they're investigating."