GENEVA, Switzerland October 22 – International Cycling Union (UCI) officials were set to announce their decision about the fate of Lance Armstrong on Monday, with their own credibility and that of the sport under fire.
The UCI is to reveal whether or not it will impose a life ban on Armstrong and strip him of his seven Tour de France titles on the basis of a US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report — or reject the findings.
USADA went public earlier this month with 1,000 pages of evidence and testimony, including statements from 11 former Armstrong teammates, that were used to issue punishments in August when Armstrong refused to contest charges.
“The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen,” USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said.
“Lance Armstrong did not merely use performance-enhancing drugs. He supplied them to his teammates. He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team. He enforced and re-enforced it.”
On the eve of a decision that could spell doom for his tattered legacy, Armstrong spoke for about 90 seconds to a record 4,300 bikers at the Livestrong Challenge charity benefit, a 100-mile (160-kilometer) race in his hometown of Austin, Texas.
“I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse,” Armstrong told the riders. “Obviously it has been an interesting and difficult couple of weeks.”
If UCI decides to reject USADA’s findings and punishments, USADA would be able to appeal that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Since the evidence was revealed, sponsors have fled Armstrong and he was forced to resign as chairman of the Livestrong cancer-fighting charity he founded in 1997 over concerns his tarnished reputation could hurt the cause.
“To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship,” he said.
Cycling is also feeling the fallout.
Rabobank, a Dutch bank and a pro cycling team sponsor for 17 years, has backed out following the Armstrong scandal.
“We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport,” Rabobank board member Bert Bruggink said.
“We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future. What the USADA showed us is that international cycle racing is not only sick but (it is) also at the highest level within cycling.”
That could be seen as taking aim at UCI president Pat McQuaid, who has been criticised for failing to see the extent of doping within the sport.
Dutchman Hein Verbruggen, McQuaid’s predecessor who departed in 2006, was running the UCI during Armstrong’s golden era — a time when USADA’s report says Armstrong and teammates evaded doping tests simply by hiding at times.
Armstrong’s Tour triumphs from 1999 through 2005 helped lead cycling beyond the Festina doping scandal of 1998, which featured revelations of rampant abuse of banned drugs such as erythropoietin (EPO).
Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme has said he does not want to award titles to other riders for 1999-2005 if Armstrong is stripped of the victories.
Armstrong, who overcame testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs to achieve cycling stardom, inspired more than $500 million in donations to Livestrong and pushed other cancer survivors to battle the condition.
“When we started this organization 15 years ago, if you told me that little organization, that little idea, would raise half a billion dollars, would have touched two and a half million lives around the world, I would have said you are crazy,” Armstrong said. “But those are all true. That’s what happened.”
No charges were filed against Armstrong from an 18-month US federal probe that ended earlier this year. Evidence from that case was not given to USADA.
But Armstrong could face court cases from former sponsors who accepted his assurances his legacy was not aided by banned substances.
USADA’s probe found all but one podium finisher during Armstrong’s Tour reign has been directly linked to doping, helping to spark a mix of opinions even from Sunday’s Livestrong Challenge riders.
“I think he’s probably guilty,” said Jenni Stephenson, 32, of Houston.
“Regardless of whether he cheated or not, if they were all cheating, he still won,” said Catherine Young, a 50-year-old bike shop owner.