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Lance Armstrong to be stripped of titles 0

DAN WHITCOMB, REUTERS

Seven-times Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong said he would no longer fight doping charges by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which quickly announced it would strip him of his titles and ban him from competitive cycling.

Armstrong, a cancer survivor hailed as one of the greatest cyclists in history, had faced a midnight deadline on Thursday to formally challenge the accusations against him.

“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ’Enough is enough’,” the 40-year-old American said in a statement on his website Lancearmstrong.com.

“For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999.”

Shortly afterwards, a spokeswoman for the USADA, Annie Skinner, said the agency would strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and ban him from professional cycling for life.

“It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes,” Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive officer, said in a statement released to Reuters by the agency.

“This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition, but for clean athletes, it is a reassuring reminder that there is hope for future generations to compete on a level playing field without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”

“I WILL TURN THE PAGE”

If the USADA takes away Armstrong’s titles he would join Canadian Ben Johnson and American Marion Jones as the highest-profile athletes to lose titles as a result of doping sanctions.

Johnson was stripped of the 1988 Seoul Olympics 100 metres title after testing positive for a steroid while Jones lost her 2000 Sydney Olympics 100, 200 and 4x400 metres relay gold medals when she confessed she had been taking drugs at the time.

Texas-born Armstrong, who retired from professional cycling last year but remains the face of his anti-cancer charity, Livestrong, has long denied that he used performance-enhancing drugs to help fuel his career.

He maintained that emphatic denial in the statement issued on Thursday, stressing that there was no physical evidence to support what he called Tygart’s “outlandish and heinous claims”.

Armstrong, who has never failed a doping test, said he would “jump at the chance” to put the allegations to rest once and for all, but refused to participate in the USADA process, which he called “one-sided and unfair”.

“Today I will turn the page,” Armstrong said. “I will no longer address this issue regardless of the circumstances.”

He also disputed the agency’s authority to take away his titles.

Johan Bruyneel, the former sporting director of the two teams Armstrong won his Tour titles with, is also accused of involvement in the case by USADA and criticised the process while defending the American.

“I’m disappointed for Lance and for cycling in general that things have reached a stage where Lance feels that he has had enough and is no longer willing to participate in USADA’s campaign against him,” the Belgian wrote on his blog www.johanbruyneel.com.

“Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been.”

World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) chief John Fahey said that Armstrong’s decision not to contest the allegations should lead to the American being stripped of his Tour de France wins.

“He had the right to rip up those charges but he elected not, therefore the only interpretation in these circumstances is that there was substance in those charges,” Fahey told Reuters in a telephone interview on Friday.

“My understanding is that when the evidence is based upon a career that included seven Tour de France wins then all of that becomes obliterated.”

The world governing body UCI (International Cycling Union) said it would not comment until it had obtained the full decision.

“Article 8.3 of the WADC (World Anti-Doping Code) states that where no hearing occurs the anti-doping organisation with results management responsibility shall submit to the parties concerned (Armstrong, the World Anti-Doping Agency and UCI) a reasoned decision explaining the action taken,” the UCI said in a statement.

“As USADA has claimed jurisdiction in the case the UCI expects that it will issue a reasoned decision in accordance with Article 8.3 of the Code.

”Until such time as USADA delivers this decision the UCI has no further comment to make.“

While the USADA can remove Armstrong’s titles, such a decision could be taken to the ultimate ruling body, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

It was not immediately clear if Armstrong’s bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics was in jeopardy.

Armstrong has been one of the most successful and controversial cyclists of all time, returning to the sport after beating cancer to win the Tour de France an unprecedented seven times in succession from 1999 to 2005.

AMERICAN HERO

Livestrong, known for its popular yellow bracelets, takes its inspiration from his achievements and recovery from testicular cancer that also made him a hero to many Americans and boosted the sport’s popularity in the United States.

The USADA, a quasi-governmental agency created by the U.S. Congress in 2000, formally charged Armstrong in June with doping and taking part in a conspiracy with members of his championship teams. Five other cyclists have been accused of conspiring with Armstrong over the course of 14 years to hide doping activity.

The agency said in a letter to Armstrong that it has blood samples from 2009 and 2010 that are ”fully consistent“ with doping.

In the letter, which was published in the Washington Post, the agency said it also has at least 10 former teammates and colleagues of Armstrong who will testify he used doping drugs during races from 1999 to 2005.

Former team mate and deposed Tour de France winner Floyd Landis accused Armstrong in 2010 of using performance-enhancing drugs and teaching others how to avoid being caught.

Landis said he witnessed some of his team mates, including Armstrong, use illegal drugs to boost performance and endurance.

On Monday a federal judge dismissed Armstrong’s effort to block the probe, despite a contention by his lawyers that USADA gathered evidence by threatening to ruin the careers of fellow cyclists who have agreed to testify against him.

His attorneys also argued that the agency’s rules violate his right to a fair trial and that it lacks proper jurisdiction to charge him.

But Armstrong could have carried on his fight against the USADA allegations through the agency’s arbitration process, contesting the evidence against him at a hearing.

In February, the U.S. Justice Department dropped an investigation centred on whether Armstrong and his teammates cheated the sponsor of their bike racing team, the U.S. Postal Service, with a secret doping programme.

French newspapers on Friday said justice had finally been done and asked whether more French riders would now feature on the Tour de France podium.

”Armstrong personified impunity. He was seen as too well protected to fall. So the big message today is that impunity is over,“ said Daniel Ressiot, a sports reporter who published the first doping allegations against Armstrong in the sporting daily L’Equipe seven years ago to the day.

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