The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Friday it was banning cyclist Lance Armstrong for life and stripping him of his record seven Tour de France titles. In a news release, USADA said Armstrong’s decision not to take the charges against him to arbitration triggers the lifetime ban and 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 against Armstrong. 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 de France titles, as race organizers and the international cycling body wrestle with USADA over who has the authority to strip the cyclist of his 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 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.”
Luskin said even though Armstrong is deciding not to fight USADA, he doesn’t expect a simple conclusion to the proceedings. Armstrong’s legal team will moniter from afar the actions of the cyclists’ union and USADA, Luskin said. “There are many forks in the road. Lance isn’t going to take any of them,” he said.
USADA’s chief executive, Travis Tygart, 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” he said in a statement. “Any time we have overwhelming proof of doping, our mandate is to initiate the case through the process and see it to conclusion as was done in this case.”
Tygart and USADA charge that Armstrong’s wins, which made him a global sports icon following his battle against cancer, were aided by banned substances, including steroids and blood doping.
In deciding to give up his fight, Armstrong still maintained his innocence, saying the wins were legitimate and within the rules.
“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 Thursday night.
Armstrong called the USADA investigation an “unconstitutional witch hunt” and said he saw no reason to participate in any further proceedings that might clear his name.
“If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and — once and for all — put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance,” Armstrong said. “But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair.”
In June, USADA announced it had assembled 10 former Armstrong teammates who were willing to testify that Armstrong cheated, and it had also found tests results that were “fully consistent” with blood doping.
Armstrong, who retired from professional cycling in February 2010, responded by suing the agency, hoping to block the case from going forward.
Armstrong questioned USADA jurisdiction in the matter, saying, “At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its motives or its methods, all at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.”
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks threw out Armstrong’s case but noted that
USADA’s “conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.”
Armstrong had the option of going to arbitration but announced late Thursday that he would stop contesting the matter.
“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,” he said.
Armstrong shared a familiar defense Thursday, noting that he had been tested his entire career in a variety of ways and results never showed conclusively that he violated any rules, even though whispers, rumors and allegations mounted in recent years.
“Whatever they asked for I provided. What is the point of all this testing if, in the end, USADA will not stand by it?” he said.
USADA oversees anti-doping efforts in Olympic sports in the United States. The agency does not have the authority to bring criminal charges but is empowered to levy charges that result in suspensions and the rescinding of awards.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles investigated doping allegations against Armstrong for nearly two years, ending its probe in February without filing any criminal charges.
While the record books soon will likely no longer reflect that Armstrong ever won a Tour de France, the cyclist apparently is at peace with his career and accomplishments.
“I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours. . . . Nobody can ever change that,” he said.
Armstrong had spent years cultivating his wildly successful and familiar brand around the idea of perseverance and overcoming adversity. Armstrong won his first Tour de France title in 1999, three years after he had testicular cancer diagnosed. His fame transcended the sports world, as his books became bestsellers and his foundation raised millions of dollars with its iconic yellow “Livestrong” bracelets.
Armstrong said he will focus his efforts on his foundation, which he says has raised nearly $500 million to fight cancer.
“We have a lot of work to do and I'm looking forward to an end to this pointless distraction,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
More on Lance Armstrong:
Hamilton: There are no winners in this decision
Early Lead: Judgment day arrives for Armstrong
Armstrong’s statement: ‘Enough is enough’
More from Washington Post Sports: