By: Jim Vertuno, AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – His seven Tour de France titles stripped away and his legacy in tatters, Lance Armstrong is heading back outdoors and into the public eye.
A day after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency punished Armstrong with a lifetime ban from professional cycling and erased 14 years of his career after concluding he used performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong is scheduled to ride in a mountain bike race in Aspen, Colo., on Saturday and follow it up by running a marathon there Sunday.
And he has no plans to slow down any time soon, despite the whirlwind of controversy swirling around him.
Armstrong spokesman Mark Higgins said Armstrong also still plans to attend the World Cancer Congress in Montreal where’s he scheduled to deliver a keynote address to thousands in attendance.
“He’s getting out there,” Higgins said.
Anti-doping and cycling officials will continue to address his career.
USADA said Friday it expects 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.
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.
LeMond did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment left through his attorneys and friends.
Armstrong on Friday sent a tweet about his plans to race in Aspen, but 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 even 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 announce 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.”
The International Olympic Committee said Friday it will await decisions by USADA and UCI before taking any steps against Armstrong, who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. Besides the disqualifications, Armstrong will forfeit any medals, winnings, points and prizes, USADA said, but it is the lost titles that now dominate his legacy.
Every one of Armstrong’s competitive races from Aug. 1, 1998, has been vacated by USADA, established in 2000 as the official anti-doping agency for Olympic sports in the United States. Since Armstrong raced in UCI-sanctioned events, he was subject to international drug rules enforced in the U.S. by USADA. Its staff joined a federal criminal investigation of Armstrong that ended earlier this year with no charges being filed.
USADA said its evidence came from more than a dozen witnesses “who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their firsthand experience and/or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the USPS conspiracy,” a reference to Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service cycling team.
The unidentified witnesses said they knew or had been told by Armstrong himself that he had “used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone” from before 1998 through 2005, and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and Human Growth Hormone through 1996, USADA said. Armstrong also allegedly handed out doping products and encouraged banned methods – and even used “blood manipulation including EPO or blood transfusions” during his 2009 comeback race on the Tour.
In all, USADA said up to 10 former Armstrong teammates were set to testify against him. Had Armstrong chosen to pursue arbitration, USADA said, all the evidence would have been available for him to challenge.
“He chose not to do this knowing these sanctions would immediately be put into place,” the statement said.
Armstrong said he has grown tired of defending himself in a seemingly endless fight against charges that he doped while piling up more Tour victories than anyone. He has consistently pointed to the hundreds of drug tests that he passed as proof of his innocence during his extraordinary run of Tour titles.
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, `Enough is enough.’ For me, that time is now,” Armstrong said Thursday night, before the deadline to enter arbitration.
His success helped sell millions of the “Livestrong” plastic bracelets and enabled him to promote cancer awareness and research, raising nearly $500 million since his Lance Armstrong Foundation was started in 1997.
Foundation officials said they remained “proud” of Armstrong and had received hundreds of messages of support from donors, partners and supporters since his announcement. Among them was Nike Inc., which said it planned to continue supporting Armstrong and the foundation.
“Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position,” the company said.
Anheuser-Busch said its partnership with Armstrong was unchanged. American Century Investments, another partner, issued a statement supporting him.
AP National Writer Eddie Pells, AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Paul Logothetis, and freelance writer James Raia contributed to this report.
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