Lance Armstrong was today stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life, following a report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that accused him of leading a massive doping program on his teams.
UCI President Pat McQuaid announced that the cycling federation accepted the USADA’s report on Armstrong and would not appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The decision clears the way for Tour de France organizers to officially remove Armstrong’s name from the record books, erasing his consecutive victories from 1999-2005.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme has said the race would go along with whatever cycling’s governing body decides and will have no official winners for those years.
USADA said Armstrong should be banned and stripped of his Tour titles for 'the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen' within his U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.
The USADA report said Armstrong and his teams used steroids, the blood booster EPO and blood transfusions. The report included statements from 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong.
Armstrong denies doping, saying he passed hundreds of drug tests. But he chose not to fight USADA in one of the agency’s arbitration hearings, arguing the process was biased against him.
Former Armstrong team director Johan Bruyneel is also facing doping charges, but he is challenging the USADA case in arbitration.
On Sunday, Armstrong greeted about 4,300 cyclists at his Livestrong charity’s fundraiser bike ride in Texas, telling the crowd he’s faced a 'very difficult' few weeks.
'I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse,' Armstrong, a cancer survivor, told the crowd.
While drug use allegations have followed the 41-year-old Armstrong throughout much of his career, the USADA report has badly damaged his reputation.
Longtime sponsors Nike, Trek Bicycles and Anheuser-Busch have dropped him, as have other companies, and Armstrong also stepped down last week as chairman of Livestrong, the cancer awareness charity he founded 15 years ago after surviving testicular cancer which spread to his lungs and brain.
Armstrong’s astonishing return from life-threatening illness to the summit of cycling offered an inspirational story that transcended the sport.
However, his downfall has ended 'one of the most sordid chapters in sports history', USADA said in its 200-page report published two weeks ago.
Armstrong has consistently argued that the USADA system was rigged against him, calling the agency’s effort a 'witch hunt'.
If Armstrong’s Tour victories are not reassigned there would be a hole in the record books, marking a shift from how organizers treated similar cases in the past.
When Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour victory for a doping violation, organizers awarded the title to Andy Schleck.
In 2006, Oscar Pereiro was awarded the victory after the doping disqualification of American rider Floyd Landis.
USADA also thinks the Tour titles should not be given to other riders who finished on the podium, such was the level of doping during Armstrong’s era.
The agency said 20 of the 21 riders on the podium in the Tour from 1999 through 2005 have been 'directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations' or other means.
It added that of the 45 riders on the podium between 1996 and 2010, 36 were by cyclists 'similarly tainted by doping'.
The world’s most famous cyclist could still face further sports sanctions and legal challenges.
Armstrong could lose his 2000 Olympic time-trial bronze medal and may be targeted with civil lawsuits from ex-sponsors or even the U.S. government.
In total, 26 people — including 15 riders — testified that Armstrong and his teams used and trafficked banned substances and routinely used blood transfusions. '
Among the witnesses were loyal sidekick George Hincapie and convicted dopers Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.
USADA’s case also implicated Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari, depicted as the architect of doping programs, and longtime coach and team manager Bruyneel.
Ferrari — who has been targeted in an Italian prosecutor’s probe — and another medical official, Dr Luis Garcia del Moral, received lifetime bans.
Bruyneel, team doctor Pedro Celaya and trainer Jose 'Pepe' Marti opted to take their cases to arbitration with USADA.
The agency could call Armstrong as a witness at those hearings.
Bruyneel, a Belgian former Tour de France rider, lost his job last week as manager of the RadioShack-Nissan Trek team which Armstrong helped found to ride for in the 2010 season.
Meanwhile, reports have surfaced that Armstrong offered bribes to a cycling opponent to throw a race back in 1993.
Celebrity Cause: Actor Sean Penn arrives on the yellow carpet for the "An Evening with Livestrong" gala fundraising event in Austin, Texas.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp uncovered court documents indicating that Lance Armstrong offered to bribe other cyclists at a group of races back in 1993, including one in Philly.
New Zealand cyclist Steven Swart gave a sworn deposition during a 2006 lawsuit involving Armstrong where he alleged that Armstrong offered an opponent $50,000 to help fix the CoreStates U.S. Pro Cycling race in Philadelphia as well as events in Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
Armstrong, who denies doping, spoke on Friday night at his cancer charity Livestrong's 15th anniversary. He did not address the USADA report or the doping charges but only said it had been a 'difficult few weeks'.
Instead, he focused on the mission of the foundation he started in 1997.
Armstrong was diagnosed in 1996 with testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.
'I am ... truly humbled by your support,' Armstrong said after receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,700.
'It's been an interesting couple of weeks. It's been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family, my friends and this foundation.'
Armstrong said he's been asked many times how he is doing.
'I say, "I've been better, but I've also been worse",' said Armstrong, making his first public appearance since the USADA report was released last week.
The celebration gala came two days after Armstrong stepped down as chairman of Livestrong to help shield the charity from the fallout of the controversy swirling around him. He remains on the board of directors.
Armstrong urged the crowd to continue fighting to help cancer patients and survivors.
'There's 28 million people around the world living with this disease,' Armstrong said. 'Thank you for your support.'
Livestrong officials expected to raise $2.5 million from the event, which included appearances by actors Sean Penn and Robin Williams and singer Norah Jones.
Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005 and his success on the bike helped propel the foundation into one of the most popular and well-known charities in the country. Livestrong has raised about $500 million in the fight against cancer.
In 2004, the foundation introduced the yellow 'Livestrong' bracelets, selling more than 80 million and creating a global symbol for cancer awareness and survival.
The silent auction included two Trek bicycles valued up to $12,000 - Trek was one of the companies that dropped Armstrong as a sponsor on Wednesday - and seven autographed yellow jerseys Armstrong wore on the podium during his Tour de France victories.
Gerry Goldstein, a criminal defense attorney and friend of Armstrong for several years, criticized USADA's investigation and sanctions of Armstrong.
Drug testers never caught Armstrong when he was competing, Goldstein said.
'I'm a big fan of what he has done. Overcoming cancer and doing what he did, who gives a (expletive) about anything else? That's so much more important as a role model and a human being,' Goldstein said. 'Quit whining about it.'
Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who donated a pair of cleats to the silent auction, said he wants to continue supporting Livestrong.
'Obviously, some things have a left a little scar, but people think it's still important to come out and support Livestrong,' Guthrie said.
The charity has worked hard to separate its mission of fighting cancer from Armstrong's troubles, said Doug Ulman, Livestrong president and chief executive.
Although Armstrong lost many of his personal sponsorship contracts, Nike, Anheuser-Busch and others who said they were terminating their contracts or would not renew them because of the doping evidence, said they would keep supporting Livestrong.
'We're proud of our history and we're excited to celebrate. We've heard from so many grass-roots supporters, program partners, corporate partners and a lot of them are doubling down, saying they are going to come back even stronger in 2013,' Ulman said. /dailymail.co.uk/