The champagne toasts on the Champs-Elysees and the two-fingered “V” for victory signs he flashed while pedaling to the finish line.
The excruciating mountain climbs and the explosions of power that pushed him past other heaving cyclists on narrow Alpine roads.
The legions of fans wearing yellow Livestrong bracelets cheering on the cancer survivor whose grit and determination gave them hope.
Faded images are all that remain of the unprecedented cycling career of Lance Armstrong.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency erased the rest of it on Friday.
It wiped out 14 years of Armstrong’s career – including his record seven Tour de France titles – and barred him for life from the sport after concluding he used banned substances.
USADA said it expected cycling’s governing body to take similar action, but the International Cycling Union was measured in its response, saying it first wanted a full explanation of why Armstrong should relinquish Tour titles he won from 1999 through 2005.
The Amaury Sport Organization, which runs the world’s most prestigious cycling race, said it would not comment until hearing from the UCI and USADA. The U.S. agency contends the cycling body is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code to strip Armstrong of one of the most incredible achievements in sports.
Armstrong, who retired a year ago and turns 41 next month, said Thursday he would no longer challenge USADA and declined to exercise his last option by entering arbitration. He again denied ever taking banned substances in his career, calling USADA’s investigation a “witch hunt” without any physical evidence.
He is now officially a drug cheat in the eyes of his nation’s doping agency.
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart described the investigation as a battle against a “win-at-all-cost culture,” adding that the UCI was “bound to recognize our decision and impose it.”
“They have no choice but to strip the titles under the code,” he said.
That would leave Greg LeMond as the only American to win the Tour de France, having done so in 1986, 1989 and 1990.
Armstrong on Friday sent a tweet that he’s still planning to ride in a mountain bike race in Aspen, Colo., today and follow it up with running a marathon on Sunday, but he did not comment directly on the sanctions.
The UCI and USADA have engaged in a turf war over who should prosecute allegations against Armstrong. The UCI backed Armstrong’s failed legal challenge to USADA’s authority, and it cited the same World Anti-Doping Code in saying that it wanted to hear more from the U.S. agency.
If Tour de France officials follow USADA’s lead and announces that Armstrong has been stripped of his titles, Jan Ullrich could be promoted to champion in three of those years. Ullrich was stripped of his third-place finish in the 2005 Tour and retired from racing two years later after being implicated in another doping scandal.
The retired German racer expressed no desire to rewrite the record book of cycling’s greatest event.
“I know how the order was on the finishing line at the time,” Ullrich said. “I’ve finished with my professional career and have always said that I was proud of my second-place finishes.”
The International Olympic Committee said Friday it will await decisions by USADA and UCI before taking any steps against Armstrong, who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. In addition to the disqualifications, Armstrong will forfeit any medals, winnings, points and prizes, USADA said, but it is the lost titles that now dominate his legacy.
All of Armstrong’s competitive races from Aug. 1, 1998, have been vacated by USADA, established in 2000 as the official anti-doping agency for Olympic sports in the United States. Since Armstrong raced in UCI-sanctioned events, he was subject to international drug rules enforced in the U.S. by USADA. Its staff joined a federal criminal investigation of Armstrong that ended this year with no charges being filed.
USADA said its evidence came from more than a dozen witnesses “who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their firsthand experience and/or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the USPS conspiracy,” a reference to Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service cycling team.
The unidentified witnesses said they knew or had been told by Armstrong himself that he had “used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone” from before 1998 through 2005, and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and Human Growth Hormone through 1996, USADA said. Armstrong also allegedly handed out doping products and encouraged banned methods – and even used “blood manipulation including EPO or blood transfusions” during his 2009 comeback race on the Tour.
In all, USADA said up to 10 former Armstrong teammates were set to testify against him. Included in the case were emails sent by Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, describing an elaborate doping program on Armstrong’s Postal Service teams, and Tyler Hamilton’s interview with “60 Minutes” claiming had personal knowledge of Armstrong doping.
The decision surprised riders around the world. At the Spanish Vuelta, riders including former rival and teammate Alberto Contador joined ex-Armstrong coach Johan Bruyneel in offering support. Another former rival, Filippo Simeoni, wondered why Armstrong dropped his fight.
“It leaves me a bit perplexed, because someone like him, with all the fame and popularity and millions of dollars he has, should fight to the end if he’s innocent,” Simeoni said. “But I guess he realized it was a useless fight and the evidence USADA had was too great.”
In San Diego, Landis avoided reporters’ questions about Armstrong, saying only: “I really don’t know what the solution is for the sport of cycling. That’s not my issue anymore.”