USADA says it will ban Lance Armstrong, strip 7 Tour titles

Aug. 24, 2012 Update

Declaring "enough is enough," Lance Armstrong says he will not fight charges brought by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a stunning decision that will cause him to be stripped of the seven Tour de France titles that turned him into an American hero. 

USADA confirmed late Thursday it will strip him of all results since Aug. 1, 1998 and ban him from competition for life. Armstrong said his decision did not mean he would accept USADA's sanctions. His lawyers threatened a lawsuit if USADA proceeded, arguing the agency must first resolve a dispute with the International Cycling Unionover whether the case should be pursued.

"It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes," USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. "This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition."  Lance Armstrong, seen here during the 2009 Tour de France, decided on Thursday not to go to arbitration to dispute charges brought by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which alleges the cyclist for years engaged in a blood-doping conspiracy.

In walking away, the 40-year-old Armstrong cited a familiar defense: he has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He said his decision is not an admission of guilt, but a choice to devote more time to his family and his Livestrong foundation for cancer survivors. Armstrong overcame advanced cancer just a few years before his string of Tour de France victories.

"I know who won those seven Tours," Armstrong said in a statement. "The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that. Especially Travis Tygart."

Armstrong said he 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."

Jeffery C. Garvey, board member of Livestrong, says the charity supports his decision and looks forward to his future work. "Lance's legacy in the cancer community is unparalleled," Garvey said in a statement.

The news caught many riders at the USA Pro Cycling race in Colorado off guard. Armstrong's entire RadioShack-Trek squad declined comment. The team, returning to their hotel from dinner, hurried into an elevator.

Bissell Pro Cyling team member Ben Jacques-Maynes, who has raced as a pro in theUnited States since 2002, called it "huge" news.

"This is bigger than Floyd (Landis), Tyler (Hamilton) and (Alberto) Contador put together," he said from the USA Pro Cycling race in Colorado. "I hope this will be the first step to realizing how poisoned this sport has been and how far we still need to come in order to move on."

On Monday, a federal judge dismissed Armstrong's lawsuit against USADA and said the agency can rightfully claim jurisdiction over the cyclist's case. That led to a deadline late Thursday when Lance was forced to decide whether to continue fighting USADA's charges that he used banned drugs and blood transfusions to gain an edge. If he decided to fight, he would have had to do so in the arbitration process, which he called a "kangaroo court." USADA's record in arbitration against the accused is 58-2.

Judge Sam Sparks also rejected Armstrong's claim that the arbitration process was biased, ruling that the cyclist must seek victory there before asking a court to intervene, as Armstrong agreed to do in applying for cycling licenses. Sparks did raise several issues of fairness in USADA's vague charging letter, but said those issues could be argued as part of the arbitration.

Armstrong declined, saying, "I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair" and said USADA has "zero physical evidence" to support its "outlandish and heinous claims."

Instead, Armstrong attorney Tim Herman fired a letter off to USADA Thursday that suggested Armstrong would sue if USADA moves to sanction him. "You are on notice that if USADA makes any public statement claiming, without jurisdiction, to sanction Mr. Armstrong, or to falsely characterize Mr. Armstrong's reasons for not requesting an arbitration as anything other than a recognition of (International Cycling Union) jurisdiction and authority, USADA and anyone involved in the making of the statement will be liable," Herman wrote.

Herman told USADA it could submit its case against Armstrong to the International Cycling Union or the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland.

By declining to go to arbitration, Armstrong and his legal team sent the message that he no longer wants to participate in a fight he doesn't consider fair. After years of rumors and accusations of cheating, many people already had made up their mind about him - a point that wasn't lost on Armstrong.

His charity has enjoyed strong support despite the doping allegations, though Armstrong's popularity has slipped, according to Q Scores, which measures the likeability of celebrities.

Sanctions against Armstrong could mark the end of a long sporting saga that once captivated the world. A native of Austin, Texas, Armstrong successful fight against cancer and remarkable career inspired millions of other survivors and gave rise to Livestrong and its iconic yellow bracelets.

Armstrong previously was subject of a federal investigation into whether he committed fraud while on the USPS team, not whether he doped. That investigation was stopped earlier this year with no charges filed. USADA then brought its own non-criminal case against Armstrong, citing its authority to protect the integrity of sports as authorized by Congress.

Armstrong described it as "Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt."

USADA has consistently said its mission is to keep sports clean and that Armstrong was being handled like any other accused athlete. The agency said Armstrong should be held to the same rules as everybody else and should not have "a new set of rules that apply only to him."

In its letter of charges dated June 12, USADA accused Armstrong of being part of a sophisticated doping conspiracy involving five other members from his U.S. Postal Servicecycling team, including doctors, a trainer and coach.

Two declined to fight, leading to swift lifetime bans from USADA. The other three decided to fight the charges in arbitration.

Tygart previously said the evidence was "overwhelming" against Armstrong. It was to include witness testimony from other riders and bloods samples indicative of doping.

Jim Ochowicz, who managed Armstrong on the Motorola team, declined to comment directly on Armstrong's decision. He said cycling had "moved on."

"As far as the sport is concerned, this is something that has been in play since 1999," he said. "It's a long story, and quite frankly the sport has moved on to other things. This is old news."

A ban by USADA also would mean a ban in triathlons, a sport Armstrong hoped to compete in on behalf of his foundation.

At the end of his statement, Armstrong said, "Going forward, I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year-old on the planet."

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