On this day in 2012, Lance Armstrong is formally stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he won from 1999 to 2005 and banned for life from competitive cycling after being charged with systematically using illicit performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions as well as demanding that some of his Tour teammates dope in order to help him win races. It was a dramatic fall from grace for the onetime global cycling icon, who inspired millions of people after surviving cancer then going on to become one of the most dominant riders in the history of the grueling French race, which attracts the planet’s top cyclists.Born in Texas in 1971, Armstrong became a professional cyclist in 1992 and by 1996 was the number-one ranked rider in the world. However, in October 1996 he was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer, which had spread to his lungs, brain and abdomen. After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, Armstrong resumed training in early 1997 and in October of that year joined the U.S. Postal Service cycling team. Also in 1997, he established a cancer awareness foundation. The organization would famously raise millions of dollars through a sales campaign, launched in 2004, of yellow Livestrong wristbands.
In July 1999, to the amazement of the cycling world and less than three years after his cancer diagnosis, Armstrong won his first Tour de France. He was only the second American ever to triumph in the legendary, three-week race, established in 1903. (The first American to do so was Greg LeMond, who won in 1986, 1989 and 1990.) Armstrong went on to win the Tour again in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003. In 2004, he became the first person ever to claim six Tour titles, and on July 24, 2005, Armstrong won his seventh straight title and retired from pro cycling. He made a comeback to the sport in 2009, finishing third in that year’s Tour and 23rd in the 2010 Tour, before retiring for good in 2011 at age 39.
Throughout his career, Armstrong, like many other top cyclists of his era, was dogged by accusations of performance-boosting drug use, but he repeatedly and vigorously denied all allegations against him and claimed to have passed hundreds of drug tests. In June 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), following a two-year investigation, charged the cycling superstar with engaging in doping violations from at least August 1998, and with participating in a conspiracy to cover up his misconduct. After losing a federal appeal to have the USADA charges against him dropped, Armstrong announced on August 23 that he would stop fighting them. However, calling the USADA probe an “unconstitutional witch hunt,” he continued to insist he hadn’t done anything wrong and said the reason for his decision to no longer challenge the allegations was the toll the investigation had taken on him, his family and his cancer foundation. The next day, USADA announced Armstrong had been banned for life from competitive cycling and disqualified of all competitive results from August 1, 1998, through the present.
On October 10, 2012, USADA released hundreds of pages of evidence—including sworn testimony from 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates, as well as emails, financial documents and lab test results—that the anti-doping agency said demonstrated Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team had been involved in the most sophisticated and successful doping program in the history of cycling. A week after the USADA report was made public, Armstrong stepped down as chairman of his cancer foundation and was dumped by a number of his sponsors, including Nike, Trek and Anheuser-Busch.On October 22, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the cycling’s world governing body, announced that it accepted the findings of the USADA investigation and officially was erasing Armstrong’s name from the Tour de France record books and upholding his lifetime ban from the sport. In a press conference that day, the UCI president stated: “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling, and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling.”
After years of denials, Armstrong finally admitted publicly, in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired on January 17, 2013, he had doped for much of his cycling career, beginning in the mid-1990s through his final Tour de France victory in 2005. He admitted to using a performance-enhancing drug regimen that included testosterone, human growth hormone, the blood booster EPO and cortisone.