The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency brought doping charges against Lance Armstrong that may cost him his record seven Tour de France titles, the cyclist said.
Armstrong also is banned immediately from competing in triathlons organized by the World Triathlon Corp., which runs the Ironman series, because of the investigation.
Armstrong, three doctors and two officials from the cyclist's former U.S. Postal Service team were notified of the doping allegations yesterday, USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart said in an e-mailed statement. The letter is the first step in the legal process for alleged doping violations, Tygart said.
"USADA only initiates matters supported by the evidence," Tygart said. "We do not choose whether or not we do our job based on outside pressures, intimidation or for any reason other than the evidence."
Armstrong called the charges "baseless."
"I have been notified that USADA, an organization largely funded by taxpayer dollars but governed only by self-written rules, intends to again dredge up discredited allegations dating back more than 16 years to prevent me from competing as a triathlete and try and strip me of the seven Tour de France victories I earned," Armstrong said.
The USADA charges, first reported today by the Washington Post, come after Armstrong's attorney said the cyclist failed to meet with the agency by June 8, four days after receiving a letter offering him an "opportunity to talk about drug use in cycling." Robert Luskin, Armstrong's attorney, wrote in a letter to USADA that the meeting was a "demand wrapped in a threat" seeking Armstrong's confession.
"We will not be party to this charade," Luskin wrote in the June 8 letter. "Lance has publicly and repeatedly made clear that he never doped."
Armstrong, who has endorsement agreements with Nike Inc., Trek Bicycle Corp. and Oakley Inc., was scheduled to race his first professional full Ironman event June 24 in Nice, France, to try to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii on Oct. 13. World Triathlon has an agreement with Armstrong's Texas-based Livestrong charity.
Comcast Corp.'s NBC network said last week it planned to air this year's championship race on Oct. 27, six weeks earlier than usual, and expand the coverage to two hours from 90 minutes. The network said the coverage was expected to focus heavily on Armstrong.
Cycling's world governing body, the International Cycling Union or UCI, said in a statement that it had been notified of USADA's probe. It didn't identify any of the people involved.
USADA made previously unpublicized allegations against Armstrong, saying it collected blood samples from him in 2009 and 2010 that were "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions," the Post said. The newspaper cited what it said was a 15-page charging letter that was sent to Armstrong and several others yesterday, a copy of which it obtained.
EPO is the abbreviation for erythropoietin, which can add energy-boosting properties to blood. Doping authorities say that drug, and transfused blood, have been used by athletes in endurance sports such as cycling and cross-country skiing to increase performance.
Armstrong never has been publicly identified as testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. On Feb. 4, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles ended a criminal drug probe involving Armstrong and his professional bicycle racing team without filing charges.
USADA also alleges that Armstrong and five former cycling team associates engaged in a massive doping conspiracy from 1998 to 2011, the Post said.
"These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation," Armstrong said in his statement. "These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity. Although USADA alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy extended over more than 16 years, I am the only athlete it has chosen to charge. USADA's malice, its methods, its star-chamber practices and its decision to punish first and adjudicate later all are at odds with our ideals of fairness and fair play."
Armstrong, 40, won the Tour de France, cycling's most prestigious event, each year from 1999 to 2005 after surviving testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs.
He also has helped bring more attention to triathlon since he returned to the sport on Feb. 12 in Panama, where he finished second in his first half Ironman 70.3-mile (113-kilometer) race. He won his last two half Ironman events, which feature a 1.2- mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. Armstrong competed as a professional triathlete at 18 before focusing on cycling.
World Triathlon Corp. rules "dictate an athlete is ineligible to compete during an open investigation," the agency said in an e-mailed statement.
"Armstrong is therefore suspended from competing in WTC- owned and licensed races pending further review," according to the statement.
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