Lance Armstrong banned for life, career vacated

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency erased 14 years of Lance Armstrong’s career Friday — including his record seven Tour de France titles — and banned him for life from the sport that made him a hero to millions of cancer survivors after concluding he used banned substances.

USADA said it expected cycling’s governing body to take similar action, but the International Cycling Union was measured in its response, saying it first wanted a full explanation on why Armstrong should relinquish Tour titles he won from 1999 through 2005.

The Amaury Sport Organization that runs the world’s most prestigious cycling race said it would not comment until hearing from the UCI and USADA, which contends the cycling body is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code to strip Armstrong of one of the most incredible achievements in sports.

Armstrong, who retired a year ago, said Thursday that he would no longer challenge USADA and declined to exercise his last option by entering arbitration. He denied again that he ever took banned substances in his career, calling USADA’s investigation a “witch hunt” without a shred of physical evidence.

He is now officially a drug cheat in the eyes of his nation’s doping agency.

“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,” said USADA chief executive Travis Tygart, who couched the investigation as a battle against a “win-at-all-cost culture.”

Tygart said the UCI was “bound to recognize our decision and impose it.”

“They have no choice but to strip the titles under the code,” he said.

The UCI and USADA have engaged in a turf war over who should prosecute allegations against Armstrong. The UCI event backed Armstrong’s failed legal challenge to USADA’s authority, and it cited the same World Anti-Doping Code in saying that it wanted to hear more from the American agency.

“As USADA has claimed jurisdiction in the case the UCI expects that it will issue a reasoned decision” explaining the action taken, the Switzerland-based organization said in a statement. It said legal procedures obliged USADA to fulfill this demand in cases “where no hearing occurs.”

The International Olympic Committee said Friday it will await decisions by USADA and UCI before taking any steps against Armstrong, who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. Besides the disqualifications, Armstrong will forfeit any medals, winnings, points and prizes, USADA said, but the lost titles that now dominate his legacy.

Every one of Armstrong’s competitive races from Aug. 1, 1998, has been vacated by USADA, established in 2000 as the official anti-doping agency for Olympic sports in the United States. Since Armstrong raced in UCI-sanctioned events, he was subject to international drug rules enforced in the U.S. by USADA. Its staff joined a federal criminal investigation of Armstrong that ended earlier this year with no charges being filed.

USADA, which announced its investigation in June, said its evidence came from more than a dozen witnesses “who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their firsthand experience and/or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the USPS conspiracy,” a reference to Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service cycling team.

The unidentified witnesses said they knew or had been told by Armstrong himself that he had “used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone” from before 1998 through 2005, and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and Human Growth Hormone through 1996, USADA said. Armstrong also allegedly handed out doping products and encouraged banned methods — and even used “blood manipulation including EPO or blood transfusions” during his 2009 comeback race on the Tour.

In all, USADA said up to 10 former Armstrong teammates were set to testify against him. Included in the case were emails sent by Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, describing an elaborate doping program on Armstrong’s Postal Service teams, and Tyler Hamilton’s interview with “60 Minutes” claiming had personal knowledge of Armstrong doping.

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