AP Exclusive: Armstrong won't fight USADA charges
FILE - In this July 24, 2010, file photo, Lance Armstrong crosses the finish line during the 19th stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 52 kilometers (32.3 miles), with a start in Bordeaux and finish in Pauillac, south western France. Armstrong said on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, that he is finished fighting charges from the United States Anti-Doping Agency that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his unprecedented cycling career, a decision that could put his string of seven Tour de France titles in jeopardy. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours, File)
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong said Thursday night he is finished fighting a barrage of drug charges from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, putting his unprecedented string of seven Tour de France titles at risk along with his legacy as one of the greatest cyclists in history.
The decision sets up a likely lifetime ban from the sport and the possibility that Armstrong will be stripped of his signature achievement — the extraordinary run of Tour titles he won from 1999-2005.
Armstrong, who retired last year, declined to enter arbitration — his last option — because he said he was weary of fighting accusations that have dogged him for years. He has consistently pointed to the hundreds of drug tests that he has passed as proof of his innocence.
"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 in a statement sent to The Associated Press. He called the USADA investigation an "unconstitutional witch hunt."
"I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999," he said. "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 will almost certainly treat Armstrong's decision as an admission of guilt, and hang the label of drug cheat on an athlete who was a hero to thousands for overcoming life-threatening testicular cancer and for his foundation's support for cancer research.
The agency can impose a lifetime ban and recommend Armstrong be stripped of his titles. That would put the question in the hands of the International Cycling Union, which has disputed USADA's authority to pursue the investigation and Tour de France officials, who have had a prickly relationship with Armstrong over the years.
Armstrong insisted his decision is not an admission of drug use, but a refusal to enter an arbitration process he believes is improper and unfair to athletes facing charges.
"USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles," he said. "I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours."
USADA maintains that Armstrong has used banned substances as far back as 1996, including the blood-booster EPO and steroids as well as blood transfusions — all to boost his performance.
The 40-year-old Armstrong walked away from the sport in 2011 without being charged following a two-year federal criminal investigation into many of the same accusations he faces from USADA. The federal probe was closed in February, but USADA announced in June it had evidence Armstrong used banned substances and methods — and encouraged their use by teammates. The agency also said it had blood tests from 2009 and 2010 that were "fully consistent" with blood doping.
Included in USADA's evidence were emails written by Armstrong's former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after a positive drug test. Landis' emails to a USA Cycling official detailed allegations of a complex doping program on the team.