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USADA strips 7 Tour titles from Lance Armstrong

By Jim Vertuno

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 4:01 p.m. MDT

FILE - This July 25, 1999, file photo shows Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong of the U.S. left, riding down the Champs Elysees avenue with teammates, from left, Frankie Andreu, of the U.S., George Hincapie of the U.S., and Pascal Derame, of France, after the 20th and final stage of the Tour de France cycling race, in Paris. Armstrong, the superstar cyclist, whose stirring victories after his comeback from cancer helped him transcend sports, chose not to pursue arbitration in the drug case brought against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. That was his last option in his bitter fight with USADA and his decision set the stage for the titles to be stripped and his name to be all but wiped from the record books of the sport he once ruled.

Laurent Rebours, File, Associated Press

The champagne toasts on the Champs-Elysees and the two-fingered "V'' for victory signs he flashed while pedaling to the finish line.

The excruciating mountain climbs and the explosions of power that pushed him past other heaving cyclists on narrow Alpine roads.

The legions of fans wearing yellow Livestrong bracelets cheering on the cancer survivor whose grit and determination gave them hope.

Faded images are all that remain of the unprecedented cycling career of Lance Armstrong.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency erased the rest of it on Friday.

It wiped out 14 years of Armstrong's career — including his record seven Tour de France titles — and barred him for life from the sport after concluding he used banned substances.

USADA said it expected cycling's governing body to take similar action, but the International Cycling Union was measured in its response, saying it first wanted a full explanation of why Armstrong should relinquish Tour titles he won from 1999 through 2005.

The Amaury Sport Organization, which runs the world's most prestigious cycling race, said it would not comment until hearing from the UCI and USADA. The U.S. agency contends the cycling body is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code to strip Armstrong of one of the most incredible achievements in sports.

Armstrong, who retired a year ago and turns 41 next month, said Thursday he would no longer challenge USADA and declined to exercise his last option by entering arbitration. He denied again that he ever took banned substances in his career, calling USADA's investigation a "witch hunt" without any physical evidence.

He is now officially a drug cheat in the eyes of his nation's doping agency.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart described the investigation as a battle against a "win-at-all-cost culture," adding that the UCI was "bound to recognize our decision and impose it."

"They have no choice but to strip the titles under the code," he said.

That would leave Greg LeMond as the only American to win the Tour de France, having done so in 1986, 1989 and 1990.

Armstrong on Friday sent a tweet that he's still planning to ride in a mountain bike race in Aspen, Colo., on Saturday and follow it up with running a marathon on Sunday, but he did not comment directly on the sanctions.

The UCI and USADA have engaged in a turf war over who should prosecute allegations against Armstrong. The UCI event backed Armstrong's failed legal challenge to USADA's authority, and it cited the same World Anti-Doping Code in saying that it wanted to hear more from the U.S. agency.

"As USADA has claimed jurisdiction in the case, the UCI expects that it will issue a reasoned decision" explaining the action taken, the Switzerland-based organization said in a statement. It said legal procedures obliged USADA to fulfill this demand in cases "where no hearing occurs."

If Tour de France officials follow USADA's lead and announces that Armstrong has been stripped of his titles, Jan Ullrich could be promoted to champion in three of those years. Ullrich was stripped of his third-place finish in the 2005 Tour and retired from racing two years later after being implicated in another doping scandal.

The retired German racer expressed no desire to rewrite the record book of cycling's greatest event, even though he would be the biggest beneficiary.

"I know how the order was on the finishing line at the time," Ullrich said. "I've finished with my professional career and have always said that I was proud of my second-place finishes."

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