Lance Armstrong ignores report release

EDDIE PELLS
Last updated 15:58 12/10/2012

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Lance Armstrong tried to treat it like any other day.

The world-renowned cyclist was at the office of his cancer-fighting foundation, "talking about next week's events and plans for 2013," he said on Twitter.

But today was different. It was the day after the evidence came out - a voluminous report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that painted him as a drug-using bully at the center of what the group called the biggest doping conspiracy ever concocted in sports.

The fallout from the agency's version of events, and its raft of supporting documents, started coming down in small bites from friends, foes, supporters and detractors around the globe.

Twitter posts with the "livestrong" hash tag - the name of Armstrong's charitable foundation - seemed to be running about 50-50, from those who thought the USADA report cemented Armstrong as a fraud, to those who didn't care and admire him for the millions of dollars he has raised for cancer research.

Either way, there was no denying the impact of the report, which provides USADA's justification for ordering Armstrong's seven Tour de France titles stripped. The weight of 26 witnesses, including 11 ex-teammates, forced people to reach a conclusion about the rider.

"This is as if Mount Everest just showed up in his front yard," said Daniel Coyle, author of "Lance Armstrong's War" and "The Secret Race," which he wrote with Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate and witness against Armstrong.

"The detail is crystal clear," Coyle said. "And each of the stories perfectly aligns. The details are so clear, you can't imagine anyone making it up. The voices you hear in the affidavits are remarkable, persuasive, precise and not, in every case, reluctant."

After cancelling an appearance scheduled in Chicago for tomorrow, Armstrong visited his foundation headquarters in Austin, Texas, for about 30 minutes in the morning, chatting informally with employees and looking for a place to hang a new painting he recently added to his personal art collection. The USADA report did not come up in conversation, foundation spokeswoman Katherine McLane said.

The head of the foundation, Doug Ulman, said he had received several messages of support and Armstrong would carry the banner for the foundation.

"He's our biggest advocate and always will be," Ulman said.

Armstrong's support stretched to the other side of the globe.

At the Tour of Beijing, 2008 Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez said "until the contrary is proved, he remains innocent."

"Lance has overcome many controls and even until today, he has never been found positive in any of them," Sanchez said. "So about all the accusations that have been poured against him, we have to see, what is the goal of all of them, whether it is an economic motive or they want to harm his image. We still need to wait to see what's the final decision taken by the UCI," the International Cycling Union.

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UCI will be one of the next major players to act. While USADA says Armstrong's lifetime ban and the stripping of his seven Tour de France titles is in effect, UCI insists it has a say in that, as well. Long skeptical of the USADA investigation and having made statements sympathetic toward Armstrong, UCI has three weeks to appeal the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

UCI said it is reviewing the case and hopes to decide how to proceed soon.

There's an awful lot to review - a 200-page novel-like description of the steps Armstrong took to advance his career using PEDs, along with more than 800 pages in supporting evidence, including affidavits from the 11 teammates and 15 others who contributed to the USADA report.

Among the details that Coyle called too good to make up: Cyclist Dave Zabriske's song, sung to the tune of "Purple Haze," about the blood-boosting drug EPO.

But some of the most corrosive evidence involves Armstrong in his role as a bully - telling his teammates to either get with the doping program or get lost.

Zabriske said cycling, at first, was a way for him to escape a difficult home life with his drug-addicted father. He vowed never to take drugs himself.

"After distinguishing myself in an important race, management presented me with drugs and instructed me on how to proceed," Zabriske said. "I was devastated. I was shocked. I had never used drugs and never intended to. I questioned, I resisted, but in the end, I felt cornered and succumbed to the pressure."

Given the passel of new information, the International Olympic Committee said it would look at the report to see if Armstrong's bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Games might be affected, though with an eight-year statute of limitations, the IOC's Denis Oswald conceded "Sydney might be too late."

The leader of the French Anti-Doping Agency, Bruno Genevois, said that, "If the report is solid, this proves that no sportsman, no matter what his notoriety, is sheltered from anti-doping legislation."

An Italian prosecutor, meanwhile, said Dr. Michele Ferrari - the man USADA says helped organize Armstrong's doping regimen - could face charges in a criminal investigation that's nearing completion in that country.

One of Armstrong's most steadfast critics, Betsy Andreu, said she was grateful to USADA for not caving under political pressure to give up on the investigation. The pressure only grew stronger after federal investigators shut down their criminal probe in February.

"On one hand, it's a sad day for the sport, but on the other hand, it's an absolutely fantastic day for the sport," said Andreu, who became a target of Armstrong's after testifying she heard him confess to using PEDs while in the hospital for cancer treatment in the 1990s. "Because it shows the choices you make today, you'll face consequences for them tomorrow. And no matter how big you are, how much money you make or how big a celebrity you are, you'll be held accountable. I'm grateful for that."

Also in the report was a list of reduced sanctions USADA handed out to riders whose testimony helped build the report.

George Hincapie, Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and Zabriskie all would have received at least two-year sanctions had they not helped USADA with its case. Instead, they got six months and were told to withdraw themselves from consideration for the 2012 Olympic team.

USA Cycling announced Thursday the cyclists had accepted their punishments. CEO Steve Johnson said he wanted to "acknowledge the extraordinary courage of these riders who placed their careers on the line in order to come forward with their experiences of past doping practices."

The man who led the anti-doping investigation, USADA CEO Travis Tygart, has often spoken of the same motivation and he has paid a price to come this far. He previously said he was the target of death threats; he has been a constant target of Armstrong and his attorneys, who have called his mission a "witch hunt" and worse.

- AP

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