Lance Armstrong mulls career move following Usada's life ban
US cyclist declares plan to compete in Aspen race while Nike and health causes lend support
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Lance Armstrong plotted his career strategy yesterday after the US anti-doping agency banned him from the sport for life and stripped him of the record seven Tour de France titles.
Usada branded Armstrong a dope cheat on Friday, a day after the Texan, 40, said he would not pursue a bid to clear himself of charges that he used performance enhancing drugs to win cycling's most prestigious race from 1999 to 2005.
The agency laid out five rule violations for which Armstrong has been sanctioned, saying the cancer survivor who became a hero to millions took part in a systematic doping conspiracy with his then United States Postal Service team.
It said that, as Armstrong has dropped out of an arbitration process, he "has received a lifetime period of ineligibility and disqualification of all competitive results from August 1, 1998 through the present".
Along with his celebrated haul of Tour titles, Armstrong stands to lose the Olympic bronze medal he won in 2000 along with other race titles, prize money and other awards.
The International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport's governing body based in Aigle, Switzerland, had been fighting Usada for jurisdiction over Armstrong's case. It said on Friday it wanted to see Usada's full explanation for the sanctions before acting.
However, Usada's statement made it clear they believe the UCI is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code to support its findings.
"Because Mr Armstrong could have had a hearing before neutral arbitrators to contest Usada's evidence and sanction and he voluntarily chose not to do so, Usada's sanction is final," the agency said.
Armstrong had long denied accusations of doping but said on Thursday he would no longer even address the issue.
"Today I turn the page," he said. But hours after Usada's announcement on Friday he made it clear that does not mean he will disappear, tweeting his intention to compete in a local mountain bike race in the Aspen area in Colorado called the Power of Four. Armstrong was apparently confident of a warm welcome from the local cycling community.
Certainly Armstrong had already received support from leaders of the anti-smoking and anti-cancer causes that he champions, and from sportswear giant Nike.
"Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that Lance created to serve cancer survivors," the firm said.
Armstrong, who has branded the Usada investigation a "witch hunt", had gone to court to block the agency's proceedings.
But on Monday a federal judge in his hometown of Austin dismissed his lawsuit, leaving Armstrong until midnight on Thursday to tell Usada whether or not he would seek arbitration.
"I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999," Armstrong said on Thursday.
"The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today - finished with this nonsense."
Usada maintains Armstrong used banned substances - including the blood-booster EPO, steroids and blood transfusions - dating back to 1996, and said 10 of his former teammates were ready to testify against him.
If the UCI confirms the move, it faces a potential headache of choosing new winners for the seven disputed tours, as a number of cyclists who finished behind Armstrong have also been implicated in doping scandals.
Indeed, Armstrong has argued that at least some of the witnesses who have implicated him cannot be trusted as they are themselves admitted dope cheats.
A US federal investigation of Armstrong and others ended in February with no criminal charges brought.