Lance Armstrong loses Tour de France titles, banned from cycling (UPDATED)

Lance Armstrong has given up trying to defend himself against alleged steroid use, calling the USADA investigation an "unconstitutional witch hunt."

Lance Armstrong has given up trying to defend himself against alleged steroid use, calling the USADA investigation an "unconstitutional witch hunt."

The champagne toasts on the Champs-Elysees and the two-fingered “V” for victory signs he flashed while pedaling to the finish line.

The excruciating mountain climbs and the explosions of power that pushed him past other heaving cyclists on narrow Alpine roads.

The legions of fans wearing yellow Livestrong bracelets cheering on the cancer survivor whose grit and determination gave them hope.

Faded images are all that remain of the unprecedented cycling career of Lance Armstrong.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency erased the rest of it on Friday.

It wiped out 14 years of Armstrong’s career — including his record seven Tour de France titles — and barred him for life from the sport after concluding he used banned substances.

USADA said it expected cycling’s governing body to take similar action, but the International Cycling Union was measured in its response, saying it first wanted a full explanation of why Armstrong should relinquish Tour titles he won from 1999 through 2005.

The Amaury Sport Organization, which runs the world’s most prestigious cycling race, said it would not comment until hearing from the UCI and USADA. The U.S. agency contends the cycling body is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code to strip Armstrong of one of the most incredible achievements in sports.

Armstrong, who retired a year ago and turns 41 next month, said Thursday he would no longer challenge USADA and declined to exercise his last option by entering arbitration. He denied again that he ever took banned substances in his career, calling USADA’s investigation a “witch hunt” without any physical evidence.

He is now officially a drug cheat in the eyes of his nation’s doping agency.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart described the investigation as a battle against a “win-at-all-cost culture,” adding that the UCI was “bound to recognize our decision and impose it.”

“They have no choice but to strip the titles under the code,” he said.

That would leave Greg LeMond as the only American to win the Tour de France, having done so in 1986, 1989 and 1990.

Armstrong on Friday sent a tweet that he’s still planning to ride in a mountain bike race in Aspen, Colo., on Saturday and follow it up with running a marathon on Sunday, but he did not comment directly on the sanctions.

The UCI and USADA have engaged in a turf war over who should prosecute allegations against Armstrong. The UCI event backed Armstrong’s failed legal challenge to USADA’s authority, and it cited the same World Anti-Doping Code in saying that it wanted to hear more from the U.S. agency.

“As USADA has claimed jurisdiction in the case, the UCI expects that it will issue a reasoned decision” explaining the action taken, the Switzerland-based organization said in a statement. It said legal procedures obliged USADA to fulfill this demand in cases “where no hearing occurs.”

If Tour de France officials follow USADA’s lead and announces that Armstrong has been stripped of his titles, Jan Ullrich could be promoted to champion in three of those years. Ullrich was stripped of his third-place finish in the 2005 Tour and retired from racing two years later after being implicated in another doping scandal.

The retired German racer expressed no desire to rewrite the record book of cycling’s greatest event, even though he would be the biggest beneficiary.

“I know how the order was on the finishing line at the time,” Ullrich said. “I’ve finished with my professional career and have always said that I was proud of my second-place finishes.”

The International Olympic Committee said Friday it will await decisions by USADA and UCI before taking any steps against Armstrong, who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. Besides the disqualifications, Armstrong will forfeit any medals, winnings, points and prizes, USADA said, but it is the lost titles that now dominate his legacy.

Every one of Armstrong’s competitive races from Aug. 1, 1998, has been vacated by USADA, established in 2000 as the official anti-doping agency for Olympic sports in the United States. Since Armstrong raced in UCI-sanctioned events, he was subject to international drug rules enforced in the U.S. by USADA. Its staff joined a federal criminal investigation of Armstrong that ended earlier this year with no charges being filed.

USADA, which announced its investigation in June, said its evidence came from more than a dozen witnesses “who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their firsthand experience and/or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the USPS conspiracy,” a reference to Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service cycling team.

The unidentified witnesses said they knew or had been told by Armstrong himself that he had “used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone” from before 1998 through 2005, and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and Human Growth Hormone through 1996, USADA said. Armstrong also allegedly handed out doping products and encouraged banned methods — and even used “blood manipulation including EPO or blood transfusions” during his 2009 comeback race on the Tour.

In all, USADA said up to 10 former Armstrong teammates were set to testify against him. Included in the case were emails sent by Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, describing an elaborate doping program on Armstrong’s Postal Service teams, and Tyler Hamilton’s interview with “60 Minutes” claiming had personal knowledge of Armstrong doping.

Had Armstrong chosen to pursue arbitration, USADA said, all the evidence would have been available for him to challenge.

“He chose not to do this knowing these sanctions would immediately be put into place,” the statement said.

The decision surprised riders around the world.

At the Spanish Vuelta, riders including former rival and teammate Alberto Contador joined ex-Armstrong coach Johan Bruyneel in offering support. Another former rival, Filippo Simeoni, wondered why Armstrong dropped his fight.

“It leaves me a bit perplexed, because someone like him, with all the fame and popularity and millions of dollars he has, should fight to the end if he’s innocent,” Simeoni said. “But I guess he realized it was a useless fight and the evidence USADA had was too great.”

In San Diego, Landis avoided reporters’ questions about Armstrong, saying only: “I really don’t know what the solution is for the sport of cycling. That’s not my issue anymore.”

Landis on Friday agreed to repay donors nearly a half-million dollars that he raised to challenge doping allegations — a deal reached with federal prosecutors that may spare him criminal charges of lying to supporters about his drug use.

At the USA Pro Challenge in Breckenridge, Colo., longtime friend Jim Ochowicz said he supported Armstrong’s decision.

“He has done so much for our sport over the years and I am sad at what has transpired,” he said. “I think he has earned every victory he’s had.”

Bruyneel said Armstrong was the victim of an “unjust” legal case.

“Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been,” Bruyneel wrote on his personal website. The Belgian, who manages the Radioshack Nissan-Trek team, has his own legal battle with USADA. He has opted for arbitration to fight charges that he led doping programs for Armstrong’s teams.

Armstrong said he has grown tired of defending himself in a seemingly endless fight against charges that he doped while piling up more Tour victories than anyone. He has consistently pointed to the hundreds of drug tests that he passed as proof of his innocence during his extraordinary run of Tour titles.

“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 Thursday night, before the deadline to enter arbitration.

“Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances,” he said. “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.”

Armstrong was still relatively unknown in the U.S. until he won the Tour for the first time in 1999 in the ultimate comeback tale: When diagnosed with testicular cancer, doctors had given him less than a 50 percent chance of survival before surgery and brutal rounds of chemotherapy saved his life.

Armstrong’s victories, his work for cancer awareness and his romances with rocker Sheryl Crow, fashion designer Tory Burch and actress Kate Hudson made him a celebrity who transcended sports.

His success helped sell millions of the “Livestrong” plastic bracelets and enabled him to promote cancer awareness and research, raising nearly $500 million since his Lance Armstrong Foundation was started in 1997.

Foundation officials said they remained “proud” of Armstrong and had received hundreds of messages of support from donors, partners and supporters since his announcement. Among them was Nike Inc., which said it planned to continue supporting Armstrong and the foundation.

“Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position,” the company said.

Anheuser-Busch said its partnership with Armstrong was unchanged and American Century Investments, another partner, said: “While the actions taken against Lance are unfortunate, we understand his decision to drop his challenge to the USADA charges. The USADA may sanction Lance and attempt to strip his titles, but no one can take away what he’s done for the 28 million people around the world living with cancer.”

Armstrong retired in 2005 and almost immediately considered a comeback before deciding to stay on the sidelines — in part because of all the doping questions. 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 again in 2010 under the cloud of the federal investigation. Early last year, he quit for good, making a brief return as a triathlete until the USADA investigation shut him down.

“He had a right to contest the charges,” WADA President John Fahey said. “He chose not to. The simple fact is that his refusal to examine the evidence means the charges had substance in them.”


chinaberry25 3 years ago

I have a belief that where there is smoke there is fire. He came back too strong after having cancer, but he is not any different that other sports players. This is the reason I no longer watch any cheaters on TV. They most all do it and their body will tell them as they age.


TrixibelleBento 3 years ago

I don't understand how he could be tested hundreds of times, get no positive results, yet is guilty? I don't really see enough proof here to strip him of his livelihood.


bigbob 3 years ago

This whole deal is a joke. Now he pretty much said he is sick of fighting this because of the cost which must be millions. Now they may pursue civil charges this country is getting worse every day. Just think of all the millions these useless lawyers have made off Bonds, Clemens, Etc. All these commitys are just like congress all lawyers, this is all to help their buddys make money.


Engineer 3 years ago

I dunno, am I the only one that finds it a bit strange that they held a sample of urine over 10 years?


LoneCycler 3 years ago

The "US" part of USADA just says where it's located. They don't adhere to civil law because Armstrong has to prove his innocence; they don't have to prove his guilt. The only evidence they seem to have is hearsay from disgruntled ex-wives or unsuccessful -- and known doping -- fellow team mates. Armstrong has dealt with this for many years. It is not certain that the International Cycling Union will go along with the USADA finding. Regardless, he and his organization LiveStrong will continue to assist families and victims of cancer.


tywebb 3 years ago

people on other blogs talk about witch hunts with the crct stuff, but this is the biggest witch hunt ever perpetrated on an individual. he keeps passing hundreds and hundreds of tests and because he is emotionally exhausted from this abuse they say that this is an admission of guilt? what a freaking joke. 7 tour titles.....best cyclist EVER....until they have evidence, not just speculation.....he's still champ. i hope his organization won't be affected by this as it has helped the fight against cancer.


agirl_25 3 years ago

The Cycling Union knew Lance Armstrong used erythropoietin (EPO) injections....it was a well known fact. EPO increases production of the oxygen-carrying red blood cells so of course he had an edge when he was racing. He had been suffering from testicular cancer and EPO injections were a part of the treatment. When I worked as a home health nurse I administered many EPO injections to patients. I personally don't think it was right for him to be allowed to race and have the EPO but apparently they thought it was all right. Having EPO injections is considered doping but I think most of the charges against him concerned steriods. I have read stories of how the riders would go to elaborate means to fake urine testing in order to avoid having to give a sample so as to not get caught. I gave up long ago any interest in sports of this nature because of the cheating. I do believe tho, he showed a bit of "in your face" arrogance when he was allowed to race during and after his EPO treatments, knowing he had an edge. That was when I sort of had a change of heart towards how I felt about him as a sportsman.


tccvc 3 years ago

And I should care about this, why?


Engineer 3 years ago

Seems the USADA is going to ignore their own rules and pursue this several years after the 8 year limit (their own rules and guidelines have an 8 year limit for pursuing these things) has passed. This looks like little more than a power trip from the USADA.


agirl_25 3 years ago

I agree. Seems someone is angry and is on a rip. Nothing more. This isn't some new gripe. It has been going on for years and years. They finally wore him down. I still think it was wrong to let him ride tho, while taking the EPO injections for they are powerful and do give a tremendous boost.


Jimboob 3 years ago

He's banned from riding his bike? Can they do that?


agirl_25 3 years ago

Sure he can ride it all he likes....he just cannot ever compete....the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) erased all his records, wiped out his14 year career, barred him for life after concluding he used banned substances. It is as if he never existed.


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