The US anti-doping agency stripped cycling icon Lance Armstrong of his record seven Tour de France titles yesterday and slapped him with a lifetime ban from competition.
Armstrong announced on Thursday that he was dropping his legal challenge against USADA over claims he cheated and used performance-enhancing drugs to win cycling’s most prestigious race from 1999 to 2005.
The 40-year-old, who battled to the top of his sport after beating life-threatening cancer, maintained his innocence but said he had grown weary of the fight and the strain it had put on his life.
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say ‘enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,” he said in a statement.
USADA took his announcement as an admission of guilt and proceeded with severe sanctions against the former champion and sporting icon that will forever tarnish his inspirational legacy.
“USADA announced today that Lance Armstrong has chosen not to move forward with the independent arbitration process and as a result has received a lifetime period of ineligibility and disqualification of all competitive results from August 1, 1998 through the present,” a statement said.
This may not be the end of the matter as the International Cycling Union, the sport’s governing body, has been fighting USADA for jurisdiction of the Armstrong case and could launch an appeal or fail to recognise the move.
Prior to USADA’s punishment, Armstrong condemned the US anti-doping organisation for what he called an “unconstitutional witch hunt” and said it had no right to strip him of his titles.
“I have been dealing with claims 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 maintains that Armstrong used banned substances, including the blood-booster EPO and steroids, as well as blood transfusions dating back to 1996, and said 10 of his former team-mates were ready to testify against him.
Attention now turns to the UCI, based in Switzerland, to see if cycling’s governing body will uphold USADA’s decision.
If the UCI confirms the move, it faces a potential headache of choosing the new winners, as a number of cyclists who finished behind the American have also been implicated in doping scandals.
Armstrong, who retired last year, said he passed hundreds of drug tests in his career and adhered to the rules in place at the time of his Tour de France wins.
“I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair,” he said, alleging that from the start the probe had been “about punishing me at all costs”.
The head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), John Fahey, gave his backing to the US agency.
“He [Armstrong] can say what he likes. The only way we would have known what the substance was of those charges, what the evidence was, was to have the evidence tested and I’m disappointed that won’t occur,” he told ABC radio in Australia.
However Armstrong has received plenty of support from fellow riders. One former rival, Filippo Simeoni, questioned why Armstrong didn’t continue to contest the charges.
“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 realised it was a useless fight and the evidence USADA had was too great.’
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