Declaring "enough is enough," Lance Armstrong says he will not fight charges brought by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a surprising decision that sets the stage for the cyclist to be stripped of the Tour de France titles that turned him into an American hero.
Armstrong, 40, said his decision did not mean he would accept USADA's sanctions. His lawyers threatened a lawsuit if USADA proceeded with punishing Armstrong, arguing that the agency must first resolve myriad disagreements with the International Cycling Union over whether a case against Armstrong should be pursued against based on the evidence.
In walking away, Armstrong cited a familiar defense, noting he had never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and saying his decision is not an admission of guilt, but a choice to devote his time to his family and his Livestrong foundation for cancer survivors. Armstrong overcame advanced cancer just a few years before his string of Tour de France victories.
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"I know who won those seven Tours," Armstrong said in a statement. "The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that. Especially (USADA CEO) Travis Tygart."
Armstrong said he 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."
Armstrong's choice still may forever taint his legacy in sports. USADA, which says it has "overwhelming evidence" that Armstrong doped based on lab results and eyewitness accounts, is expected to ban Armstrong from competition for life and strip him of his cycling titles. The agency's statute of limitations is eight years, though in its letter to Armstrong it said it can disqualify competitors from earlier events if they are found to have made false statements at the time.
On Monday, a federal judge dismissed Armstrong's case against USADA and said the agency can rightfully claim jurisdiction over the cyclist's case. Judge Sam Sparks also rejected Armstrong's claim that the arbitration process was biased, ruling that the cyclist must seek victory there before asking a court to intervene, as Armstrong agreed to do in applying for cycling licenses. Sparks did raise several issues of fairness in USADA's "vague" charging letter, but said those issues could be argued as part of the arbitration.
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Armstrong declined, saying, "I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair" and said USADA has "zero physical evidence" to support its "outlandish and heinous claims."
Instead, Armstrong attorney Tim Herman fired a letter off to USADA Thursday that suggested Armstrong would sue if USADA moves to sanction him. "You are on notice that if USADA makes any public statement claiming, without jurisdiction, to sanction Mr. Armstrong, or to falsely characterize Mr. Armstrong's reasons for not requesting an arbitration as anything other than a recognition of UCI jurisdiction and authority, USADA and anyone involved in the making of the statement will be liable," Herman wrote.
Herman told USADA it could submit its case against Armstrong to UCI or the international Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland.
By declining to go to arbitration, Armstrong and his legal team sent the message that he no longer wants to participate in a fight he doesn't consider fair. After years of rumors and accusations of cheating, many people already had made up their mind about him - a point that wasn't lost on Armstrong.
His charity has enjoyed strong support despite the doping allegations, though Armstrong's popularity has slipped, according to Q Scores, which measures the likeability of celebrities.
Sanctions against Armstrong could mark the end of a long sporting saga that once captivated the world. A native of Austin, Texas, Armstrong successful fight against cancer and remarkable career inspired millions of other survivors and gave rise to Livestrong and its iconic yellow bracelets.
Armstrong previously was subject of a federal investigation into whether he committed fraud while on the USPS team, not whether he doped. That investigation was stopped earlier this year with no charges filed. USADA then brought its own non-criminal case against Armstrong, citing its authority to protect the integrity of sports as authorized by Congress.
Armstrong described it as "Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt."
USADA has consistently said its mission is to keep sports clean and that Armstrong was being handled like any other accused athlete. The agency said Armstrong should be held to the same rules as everybody else and should not have "a new set of rules that apply only to him."
In its letter of charges dated June 12, USADA accused Armstrong of being part of a sophisticated doping conspiracy involving five other members from his U.S. Postal Service cycling team, including doctors, a trainer and coach.
Two declined to fight, leading to swift lifetime bans from USADA. The other three decided to fight the charges in arbitration.