(CNN) — Lance Armstrong is losing the seven cycling titles that made him a legend. The International Cycling Union announced Monday that Armstrong is being stripped of his Tour de France titles.
“Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” said the union’s president, Pat McQuaid, announcing that Armstrong is banned from the sport.
The decision follows this month’s finding by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that there is “overwhelming” evidence that Armstrong was involved as a professional cyclist in “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program.”
McQuaid said he was “sickened” by the report.
But he emphasized, “Cycling has a future.”
In a statement, the union wrote, “Today’s young riders do not deserve to be branded or tarnished by the past or to pay the price for the Armstrong era.”
The group, which officially goes by its French name Union Cycliste International, or UCI, is the cycling’s world governing body.
Following the union’s announcement, another of Armstrong’s sponsors announced it was dropping him.
Oakley said that Armstrong was once “a symbol of possibility” and that the company now looks “forward with hope to athletes and teams of the future who will rekindle that inspiration by racing clean, fair and honest.” Like some other sponsors who have made Armstrong enormously wealthy, Oakley said it would continue to support his cancer-fighting foundation.
Armstrong has steadfastly maintained his innocence. At an event Sunday, he did not refer to the controversy directly but said it’s been “an interesting and at times very difficult few weeks.”
Armstrong’s story — that of a cancer survivor who tamed the grueling three-week race more than any other cyclist before or since — had made him a household name. But allegations of doping long dogged his career.
Then came this month’s finding by the USADA.
The agency announced it would ban Armstrong from the sport for life and strip him of his results dating from 1998. The decision wiped out 14 years of his career. McQuaid said Monday the cycling union would not appeal USADA’s decision.
McQuaid, speaking at a news conference Monday, said he does not believe cycling will ever be free from doping, because “I don’t think in any aspect of society there are no cheats. I do believe that doping can be hugely reduced.”
The keys are education programs and how teams are structured, he said.
Monday’s news conference turned somewhat contentious as reporters asked whether the cycling union had looked the other way for years despite growing allegations of widespread doping in the sport. Armstrong had made two donations to the union for anti-doping technology.
McQuaid insisted his organization never ignored the concerns raised about possible doping. And he wrote off any suggestion that Armstrong’s contributions had led the organization to make any decision on the issue.
“The UCI has tested Lance Armstrong 218 times. If Lance Armstrong was able to beat the system, then the responsibility for addressing that rests not only with the UCI but also with” the anti-doping agencies that accepted the results, the cycling union said in its statement.
The International Olympic Committee also is reviewing the evidence and could revoke Armstrong’s bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Games.
It is now up to the organizers of the Tour de France whether it will nominate alternate winners for the 1999-2005 tours. The Amaury Sport Organisation, which runs the 21-day event, has said it will decide after the ruling.
The cycling union’s decision leaves Greg LeMond as the only American to win the tour. He did so in 1986, 1989 and 1990.
U.S. cyclist Floyd Landers was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France victory in 2010.
In the past, Armstrong, 41, argued that he has taken more than 500 drug tests and never failed. In its 202-page report, the USADA said it had tested Armstrong less than 60 times and the International Cycling Union conducted about 215 tests.
“Thus the number of actual controls on Mr. Armstrong over the years appears to have been considerably fewer than the number claimed by Armstrong and his lawyers,” the USADA said.
The agency didn’t say that Armstrong ever failed one of those tests, but his former teammates testified as to how they beat tests or avoided the test administrators altogether. Several riders also said team officials seemed to know when random drug tests were coming, the report said.
Speaking to participants in his foundation’s annual Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, Armstrong said, “People ask me a lot how are you doing. And I tell them I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse.”
He stepped down last week as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation — widely known by the brand name it created, Livestrong — but said he will continue to be involved. Some of the foundation’s donors are furious over the scandal and want their money back.
“We will not be deterred,” Armstrong said Friday night at the organization’s 15th anniversary celebration in Austin. “We will move forward.”
The controversy has taken its toll on Armstrong’s endorsement deals.
On the same day he stepped away from the leadership of his foundation, Nike, which initially stood by Armstrong, dropped him with a terse statement citing what it called “seemingly insurmountable evidence” that he participated in doping.
Hours later, brewery giant Anheuser-Busch followed suit, saying it would let Armstrong’s contract expire at the end of the year. Nike and Anheuser-Busch said they still planned to support Livestrong and its initiatives.
Other significant sponsors who dropped Armstrong include Trek bicycles and RadioShack.
Professional cycling couldn’t escape the backlash either as Dutch bank Rabobank announced it is to end its sponsorship of pro cycling teams in the wake of the doping scandal.
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