USADA announced Friday it was banning Armstrong for life and stripping him of his record seven Tour de France titles, saying the cyclist’s decision not to take the charges against him to arbitration triggers the forfeiture of his Tour victories from 1999 to 2005.
The International Cycling Union, which has been fighting with USADA over jurisdiction in the Armstrong matter, asked USADA to present its case. The Amaury Sport Organization, which runs the Tour de France, declined comment until a hearing with the cycling organization and USADA takes place.
Armstrong can still hold out hope that he’ll ultimately be able to retain his Tour titles, as race organizers and international cycling’s governing body wrestle with USADA over who has the authority to strip the cyclist of the wins. “They don’t unilaterally have the authority because they didn’t award them,” Armstrong’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said of USADA.
In an interview Friday, Luskin reiterated that the cyclist’s decision Thursday to bow out of the fight against USADA is not an admission of guilt to any doping charges.
Allegations have become so frequent over the years that Luskin likened it to “an endless game of whack-a-mole.”
“Every time he bangs one over the head, another pops up,” Luskin said. “He just doesn’t see it ending.”
USADA’s chief executive, Travis Tygart, has led the pursuit of Armstrong, charging the cyclist with blood doping and steroid use as far as back as 1999. He said the Armstrong case serves as a lesson to competitors.
“Nobody wins when an athlete decides to cheat with dangerous performance enhancing drugs, but clean athletes at every level expect those of us here on their behalf, to pursue the truth to ensure the win-at-all-cost culture does not permanently overtake fair, honest competition,” Tygart said in a statement.
Luskin said between appeals and arbitration, the battle likely would’ve lasted well beyond 2016 and could have cost Armstrong millions of dollars in the process.
“I think Lance ultimately decided he’d rather be eaten alive by zombies than locked in a room with lawyers for the next five years of his life with no promise at the end of it that there would be any peace,” Luskin said.
Armstrong’s decision to halt his defense could have a wide-reaching impact. For one, many of his detractors — and even some who admire him — will take his decision not to fight as an implicit admission of guilt.