The Press Association has revealed that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have said it will strip Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles after he declared he would no longer fight the drug charges that threaten his legacy as one of the greatest cyclists ever.
Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive, said Armstrong would also be hit with a lifetime ban from the sport on Friday. He called the case a “heartbreaking” example of a win-at-all costs approach to sports.
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,” Armstrong said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. He called the USADA investigation an “unconstitutional witch hunt.”
“I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999,” he said. “The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today — finished with this nonsense.”
USADA reacted quickly and treated Armstrong’s decision as an admission of guilt, hanging the label of drug cheat on an athlete who was a hero to thousands for overcoming life-threatening testicular cancer and for his foundation’s support for cancer research.
“It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and athletes,” Tygart said. “It’s a heartbreaking example of win at all costs overtaking the fair and safe option. There’s no success in cheating to win.”
USADA maintains that Armstrong has used banned substances as far back as 1996, including the blood-booster EPO and steroids as well as blood transfusions — all to boost his performance.
The 40-year-old Armstrong walked away from the sport in 2011 without being charged following a two-year federal criminal investigation into many of the same accusations he faces from USADA.
The federal probe was closed in February, but USADA announced in June it had evidence Armstrong used banned substances and methods — and encouraged their use by teammates. The agency also said it had blood tests from 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent” with blood doping.
Included in USADA’s evidence were emails written by Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after a positive drug test. Landis’ emails to a USA Cycling official detailed allegations of a complex doping program on the team.
USADA also said it had 10 former Armstrong teammates ready to testify against him. Other than suggesting they include Landis and Tyler Hamilton, both of whom have admitted to doping offences, the agency has refused to say who they are or specifically what they would say.
“There is zero physical evidence to support (the) outlandish and heinous claims,” Armstrong said. “The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of (doping) controls I have passed with flying colours.”
Armstrong sued USADA in Austin, where he lives, in an attempt to block the case. The UCI supported this. But a judge threw out the case on Monday, siding with USADA despite questioning the agency’s pursuit of Armstrong in his retirement.
Now the ultracompetitive Armstrong has done something virtually unthinkable for him: he has quit before a fight is over.
“Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances. I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities,” he said.
Armstrong could have pressed his innocence in USADA’s arbitration process, but the cyclist has said he believes most people have already made up their minds about whether he’s a fraud or a persecuted hero.
It was a stunning move for an athlete who built his reputation on not only beating cancer, but forcing himself through gruelling off-season workouts no one else could match, then crushing his rivals in the Alps and the Pyrenees.
Although he had already been crowned a world champion and won individual stages at the Tour de France, Armstrong was still relatively unknown in the U.S. until he won the epic race for the first time in 1999.
It was the ultimate comeback tale. When diagnosed with cancer, doctors had given him less than a 50 per cent chance of survival before surgery and brutal cycles of chemotherapy saved his life.
In a sport rife with cheaters, Armstrong has been under constant suspicion since the 1990s from those who refused to believe he was a clean rider winning cycling’s premier event against a field of doped-up competition.
Armstrong won his first Tour at a time when doping scandals had rocked the race. He was leading the race when a trace amount of a banned anti-inflammatory corticosteroid was found in his urine; cycling officials said he was authorized to use a small amount of a cream to treat saddle sores.
After Armstrong’s second victory in 2000, French judicial officials investigated his Postal Service team for drug use. That investigation ended with no charges, but the allegations kept coming.
Two books published in Europe, L.A. Confidential and L.A. Official, also raised doping allegations and, in 2005, French magazine L’Equipe reported that retested urine samples from the 1999 Tour showed the use of the banned stimulant; EPO.
Armstrong fought every accusation with denials and, in some cases, lawsuits against the European media outlets that reported them.
But he showed signs that he was tiring of the never-ending questions. He retired (for the first time) in 2005 and almost immediately considered a comeback before deciding to stay on the sidelines, in part, because he didn’t want to keep answering doping questions.
“I’m sick of this,” Armstrong said in 2005. “Sitting here today, dealing with all this stuff again, knowing if I were to go back, there’s no way I could get a fair shake — on the roadside, in doping control, or the labs.”
Three years later, Armstrong was 36 and itching to ride again. He came back to finish third in the 2009 Tour de France.
Armstrong raced in the Tour again in 2010, under the cloud of the federal criminal investigation. Early last year, he quit the sport for good, but made a brief return as a triathlete until the USADA investigation blocked his path.
Armstrong will be stripped of all the title he won since 1998 – including seven Tour De France winners’ jerseys and a 2000 Olympic gold medal.