Lance Armstrong banned for life, career vacated

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Had Armstrong chosen to pursue arbitration, USADA said, all the evidence would have been available for him to challenge.

“He chose not to do this knowing these sanctions would immediately be put into place,” the statement said.

The decision surprised riders around the world.

At the Spanish Vuelta, riders including former rival and teammate Alberto Contador joined ex-Armstrong coach Johan Bruyneel in offering support. Another former rival, Filippo Simeoni, wondered why Armstrong dropped his fight..

“It leaves me a bit perplexed, because someone like him, with all the fame and popularity and millions of dollars he has, should fight to the end if he’s innocent,” Simeoni said. “But I guess he realized it was a useless fight and the evidence USADA had was too great.”

At the USA Pro Challenge in Breckenridge, Colo., longtime friend Jim Ochowicz said he supported Armstrong’s decision.

“He has done so much for our sport over the years and I am sad at what has transpired,” he said. “I think he has earned every victory he’s had.”

Bruyneel said Armstrong was the victim of an “unjust” legal case.

Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been,” Bruyneel wrote on his personal website. The Belgian, who manages the Radioshack Nissan-Trek team, has his own legal battle with USADA. He has opted for arbitration to fight charges that he led doping programs for Armstrong’s teams.

Armstrong clearly knew his legacy would be blemished by his decision. But he said he has grown tired of defending himself in a seemingly never-ending fight against charges that he doped while piling up more Tour victories than anyone ever. He has consistently pointed to the hundreds of drug tests that he passed as proof of his innocence during his extraordinary run of Tour titles.

“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 Thursday night, hours before the deadline to enter arbitration.

“Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances,” he said. “I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities.”

Although he had already been crowned a world champion and won individual stages at the Tour de France, Armstrong was still relatively unknown in the U.S. until he won the epic race for the first time in 1999. It was the ultimate comeback tale: When diagnosed with cancer, doctors had given him less than a 50 percent chance of survival before surgery and brutal cycles of chemotherapy saved his life.

Armstrong’s riveting victories, his work for cancer awareness and his gossip-page romances with rocker Sheryl Crow, fashion designer Tory Burch and actress Kate Hudson made him a figure who transcended sports.

His dominance of the Tour de France elevated the sport’s popularity in the U.S. to unprecedented levels. His story and success helped sell millions of the “Livestrong” plastic yellow wrist bracelets, and enabled him to enlist lawmakers and global policymakers to promote cancer awareness and research. His Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised nearly $500 million since its founding in 1997.

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