Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong will receive a lifetime ban from Olympic sports early Friday and be stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles after deciding to abandon his long fight against charges he led a sophisticated doping conspiracy throughout his career.
Armstrong announced Thursday night that he would disregard a midnight deadline the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had given him to challenge the results of USADA’s two-year investigation of his legendary cycling teams, a probe that determined Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions.
“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 claiming he was the victim of a witch hunt. “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.”
Surrendering to USADA saves Armstrong from watching his former teammates testify against him in arbitration, but it leaves the iconic cancer survivor vulnerable to a tidal wave of legal claims from sponsors, promotion insurers and even the U.S. government, who are positioned to demand the return of tens of millions in sponsorship dollars.
Unless Armstrong changes his mind before 2:01 ET, he will be disqualified from every competition he entered since Aug. 1, 1998, including the Tour de France races where he built his legend and the 2000 Summer Olympics, where he won a bronze medal.
“It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes,” said USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart. “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, but for clean athletes, it is a reassuring reminder that there is hope for future generations to compete on a level playing field without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”
A lifetime period of ineligibility means Armstrong, 40, will be prohibited from participating, either as an athlete or team owner, at any event whose organizers are signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code – a list that includes elite cycling races as well as the triathlon events that Armstrong has entered since retiring from cycling in 2011.
A part owner of the RadioShack cycling team, Armstrong will be barred from receiving team-owner credentials at the Tour de France, an event that he dominated between 1999 and 2005, dominating his rivals in an era that was rife with corruption.
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Lance Armstrong has been defiant... until now.
Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond now becomes the only American man to have won cycling’s hardest race. LeMond declined to comment, but his wife, Kathy LeMond, issued a one-word statement on her Twitter account: “Finally.”
Central to Armstrong’s downfall was Floyd Landis, a former teammate who was stripped of his title from the 2006 edition of the Tour after testing positive for testosterone and losing an arbitration battle with USADA. Landis later served a two-year ban, confessed to doping and accused Armstrong, sparking a federal grand jury fraud investigation that ended earlier this year without charges.
Landis himself became the focus of a grand jury investigation following his 2010 confession, as federal prosecutors in San Diego explored whether Landis committed fraud in 2006 and 2007 while raising hundreds of thousands for a legal defense fund. Those prosecutors recently offered Landis a deferred prosecution agreement – a deal in which charges against him will be dropped if he pays back investors in the Floyd Fairness Fund.
USADA, which leveled its charges in June, has already banned one of Armstrong’s doctors, Luis Garcia del Moral, and a team trainer, Jose Marti. The World Anti-Doping Agency notified all member federations that the men are ineligible to participate in sports in any capacity.
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Three other men USADA charged in the conspiracy – doctors Michele Ferrari and Pedro Celaya, and team director Johan Bruyneel – have told USADA they will contest the charges in arbitration. According to USADA, more than 12 eyewitnesses are prepared to testify, including 10 cyclists who rode with Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service, Discovery Channel and RadioShack teams.
The U.S. Postal Service gave tens of millions in sponsorship dollars to Armstrong’s teams, and the government may yet try to claw that taxpayer money back. Armstrong is one of the defendants in a whistleblower lawsuit that Landis filed in 2010 under the False Claims Act, a law that allows the Justice Department’s civil division to join plaintiffs in lawsuits that allege a defendant defrauded the U.S. government.
Armstrong may also face litigation from SCA Promotions, a Texas company that paid Armstrong a $7.5 million performance bonus in 2006 after a bitter arbitration fight. The company’s attorney notified Armstrong earlier this summer that the company would seek to claw that money back if Armstrong was stripped of his titles.
I guess he'll have to write a book to recoup cash that he'll have to give back to sponsors. He can call it "LIVE WRONG"