Lance Armstrong says he will no longer fight charges from the US Anti-Doping Agency that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his unprecedented cycling career, a decision that could put his string of seven Tour de France titles at risk.
Armstrong says he is innocent, but announced on Thursday night that he has decided against fighting USADA because he is weary of the doping accusations that have dogged him for years. His decision could lead to a lifetime ban from cycling and perhaps the loss of the Tour titles he won from 1999-2005.
In a statement, Armstrong said he had been dealing with claims he cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning seven Tours since 1999 and had been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation.
“There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, ‘enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now. 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,” Armstrong said.
“I had hoped that a federal court would stop USADA’s charade. Although the court was sympathetic to my concerns and recognized the many improprieties and deficiencies in USADA’s motives, its conduct, and its process, the court ultimately decided that it could not intervene.
“If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and – once and for all – put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance.
“But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair. Regardless of what (USADA chief executive) Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims.
“The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colors. From the beginning, however, this investigation has not been about learning the truth or cleaning up cycling, but about punishing me at all costs.
“USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles.
“I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours. We all raced together. For three weeks over the same roads, the same mountains, and against all the weather and elements that we had to confront.
“Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances.”
USADA says Armstrong used banned substances dating to 1996, including the blood-booster EPO and steroids, as well as blood transfusions. Armstrong sued in federal court to block the charges but lost.
USADA will almost certainly treat Armstrong’s decision as an admission of guilt, and hang the label of drug cheat on an athlete who was a hero to thousands for overcoming life-threatening testicular cancer and for his foundation’s support for cancer research.
The agency can impose a lifetime ban and recommend Armstrong be stripped of his titles.
That would put the question in the hands of the International Cycling Union, which has disputed USADA’s authority to pursue the investigation and Tour de France officials, who have had a prickly relationship with Armstrong over the years.
Armstrong insisted his decision is not an admission of drug use, but a refusal to enter an arbitration process he believes is improper and unfair to athletes facing charges.
The 40-year-old Armstrong walked away from the sport in 2011 without being charged following a two-year federal criminal investigation into many of the same accusations he faces from USADA.
The federal probe was closed in February, but USADA announced in June it had evidence Armstrong used banned substances and methods - and encouraged their use by teammates. The agency also said it had blood tests from 2009 and 2010 that were “fully consistent” with blood doping.
The 40-year-old Armstrong retired from cycling in 2011.