It took years of work and sacrifice to win seven straight Tours de France, but it only took a minute for all seven to be taken off the record of the now-disgraced Lance Armstrong.
The announcement finally came Monday morning that cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union (which couldn't catch Armstrong red-handed through 218 tests) was erasing the famed rider’s slate since there was plenty of evidence that Armstrong himself hadn’t exactly been clean during his cycling days, and was banning him for life from competing in the sport.
The man who made the Nike anti-doping commercial above has denied it vehemently, of course, but his fellow riders have one by one decided to talk about what they saw him do and how they were, well, Strongarmed into cooperating, as the New York Times reported in a damning recap of their testimony.In the wake of the ICU decision, one of Armstrong's last remaining sponsors — Oakley — announced it's severing ties with the cyclist.
When the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency put out its report on Armstrong two weeks ago, there wasn’t much of a peep from his sponsors. It seemed that he and his Livestrong cancer-research foundation would sail along just fine.
Then a week later, the same day that Armstrong stepped down from leading his foundation found Nike, which has stood by a few athletes in their tough times, announcing that it had decided to dump Armstrong. A slew of other sponsors followed, which Bloomberg predicts will cost Armstrong $30 million and any future endorsements.
And now his seven Tour victories are officially axed, he's being sued for $7.5 million by a promoter, with other suits sure to follow. Surely Armstrong was envisioning millions of people across the globe puling their Livestrong bracelets off their wrists and taking rides to used-book shops to try to sell off their dog-eared copies of his inspirational autobiography about this own incredible battle with cancer that had him on his deathbed, “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.”
Armstrong is begging folks not to ditch his charity, which has raised millions to help find a cure for the second-leading cause of death in America. But he’s also got the problem of people who are asking for their money back and are frustrated with their own public association with the organization, CNN reports: "The mission absolutely must go on," Armstrong said Friday at the foundation’s 15th anniversary celebration. "We will not be deterred. We will move forward, and we will continue to serve the 28 million people around the world that need us the most."
The event was attended by such celebs as Ben Stiller, Sean Penn, Robin Williams and Matthew McConaughey, and Norah Jones, Globalpost reports. “Lance has developed an organization that has become an inspiration to me and to others — and I think it will remain,” Penn said. “I think to anyone who looks at this with a clear eye will see it as hypocritical to think otherwise."
Perhaps Livestrong will continue to thrive, but Armstrong’s downfall will likely hurt the sport of cycling overall. Dutch bank Rabobank, which has sponsored a cycling team for 17 years, is pulling out. "It is with pain in our heart, but for the bank this is an inevitable decision," said Bert Bruggink of Rabobank's managing board, CNN reports. "We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future."
Armstrong seems pretty Zen about the whole thing. On Sunday, at Livestrong’s annual Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas, where Armstrong lives, he said, that it’s been “"an interesting and at times very difficult few weeks," CNN reports.
"People ask me a lot how are you doing,” he said. “And I tell them I've been better, but I've also been worse."
That may be, but that’s only because Armstrong was once counted for dead. He’s got himself into a pretty tough spot. It’ll make for another incredible bestseller when he somehow gets himself out.
So congrats to all the fellas who finished second to Armstrong in those Tours: Alex Zülle, Jan Ullrich, Joseba Beloki, Andreas Kloden, and Ivan Basso. Of course three of those guys (Zulle, Ullrich, and Basso all served suspensions for doping at some point in their careers. Not exactly people you want to be handing the yellow jersey over to.
So it may be hard to find heroes in cycling’s famed peloton these days, but one group that Armstrong will never thank but the rest of the world should are all of his brave former teammates who decided that truth would set them as free as they had once felt on their bikes, zipping down the mountains of the world. It can be hard to tell the truth when you’re outing one of the greatest PR stories ever told, but they all individually made the difficult but ultimately right choice.