On this day in 2005, American cyclist Lance Armstrong wins a record-setting seventh consecutive Tour de France and retires from the sport. After Armstrong survived testicular cancer, his rise to cycling greatness inspired cancer patients and fans around the world and significantly boosted his sport’s popularity in the United States. However, in 2012, in a dramatic fall from grace, the onetime global cycling icon was stripped of his seven Tour titles after being charged with the systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Born on September 18, 1971, in Plano, Texas, Armstrong started his sports career as a triathlete, competing professionally by the time he was 16. Biking proved to be his strongest event, and at age 17 he was invited to train with the U.S. Olympic cycling developmental team in Colorado. He won the U.S. amateur cycling championship two years later, in 1991, then finished 14th in the road race competition at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. He turned pro later that year but finished last in the Classico San Sebastian, his first race as a professional. In 1993 he bounced back to win 10 titles, including his first major race, the World Road Championships. That same year, he also competed in his first Tour de France, the grueling three-week race that attracts the world’s top cyclists, and won the eighth stage. In 1995 he again won a stage of the Tour de France, as well as the Tour DuPont, a major U.S. cycling event.
Armstrong began 1996 as the number-one-ranked cyclist in the world, but he chose not to race the Tour de France and performed poorly at that year’s Olympics. After experiencing intense pain during a training ride, he was diagnosed in October 1996 with Stage 3 testicular cancer, which had spread to his lungs and brain. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, then began training again in early 1997. Later that year, he signed with the U.S. Postal Service team. After he quit in the middle of one of his first races back, many thought his career was over. However, after taking some time off from competition, Armstrong came back to finish in the top five at both the Tour of Spain and the World Championships in 1998.
In 1999, to the amazement of the cycling community, Armstrong won his first-ever Tour de France and went on to win the race for the next six consecutive years. In addition to his seven overall wins (a record for both total and consecutive wins), he won 22 individual stages and 11 individual time trials, and led his team to victories in three team time trials between 1999 and 2005. After retiring in 2005, Armstrong made a comeback to pro cycling in 2009, finishing third in that year’s Tour and 23rd in the 2010 Tour. He retired for good from the sport in 2011 at age 39.
Over the years, Armstrong’s intense training regimen and his famed dominance in the difficult and treacherous mountain stages of the Tour de France inspired awe among both fans and opponents. His cycling cadence, which averaged 95 to 100 rotations per minute (rpm) but reached as high as 120 rpm, was considered remarkable, particularly during climbs. In addition to being an exceptionally talented climber, Armstrong performed extremely well in time trials.
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, while continuing to maintain he had done nothing wrong, announced on August 23 that he would stop fighting the charges. The next day, USADA banned Armstrong for life from competitive cycling and disqualified all his 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, that the 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 Livestrong cancer awareness foundation, and also was fired from many of his endorsement deals. On October 22, Union Cycliste Internationale, 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.
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.