AUSTIN, Texas — Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong faced a deadline Thursday to formally challenge sweeping doping allegations from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency or accept sanctions that could include a lifetime ban from the sport and potentially strip him of his titles.
Armstrong has strongly denied doping during his stellar career. The question was whether he will keep fighting USADA or officially give up and move on, risking a permanent stain on his legacy. The deadline was 2 a.m. EDT Friday.
Anti-doping officials have accused Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids and blood boosters, and participating in a complex doping scheme on his teams while winning the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005. USADA officials say up to 10 former teammates are ready to testify against him and they have drug test results from 2009-2010 that are "consistent" with doping.
Armstrong says he has passed more than 500 drug tests in his career and accused USADA officials of waging a personal vendetta against him.
The 40-year-old Armstrong retired from cycling in 2011 and walked away without being charged following a two-year federal investigation into many of the same accusations he faces from USADA. That probe was closed in February. USADA officials told Armstrong in June they were pursuing separate, non-criminal doping charges.
Sanctions by USADA could damage his legacy as one of the greatest cyclists in history, an athlete who is a hero to many for overcoming life-threatening testicular cancer and for the Lance Armstrong Foundation's work supporting cancer survivors and funding research.
Doping rumors and allegations have dogged Armstrong throughout his career. In a sport rife with cheaters, he has been under constant suspicion from those who refused to believe he was a clean rider winning cycling's premiere event against a field of doped-up competition.
The latest charges from USADA spawned a turf war between sports agencies. The Switzerland-based International Cycling Union said USADA did not have jurisdiction to pursue the case and urged the American agency to turn over evidence to them to determine if an investigation should proceed. The World Anti-Doping Agency supported USADA's claims of jurisdiction.
Armstrong sued in federal court to block USADA's case, arguing the arbitration process was unfair. His lawsuit was dismissed Monday by a federal judge, forcing Armstrong to decide whether to challenge the charges in arbitration — something he says violates his constitutional rights to due process. USADA officials say their process is fair and widely recognized by sports agencies across the globe.