After more than a decade of outrunning accusations that he had doped during his cycling career, Lance Armstrong, one of the most well-known and accomplished athletes in history, finally surrendered on Thursday, etching a dark mark on his legacy by ending his fight against charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
Armstrong, who won the Tour de France an unprecedented seven straight times, said Thursday that he would not continue to fight the charges levied against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which contended that he doped and was one of the ringleaders of systematic doping on his Tour-winning teams.
"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough,' " Armstrong said in a statement, adding that his decision is not an admission of drug use but a refusal to enter an arbitration process he believes is improper and unfair to athletes facing charges.
"The toll this has taken on my family and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today — finished with this nonsense."
His decision means he will be stripped of his Tour titles (1999 to 2006), the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Olympics and all other titles, awards and money he won from August 1998 on.
It also means he will be barred for life from competing, coaching or having any official role with any Olympic sport or other sport that follows the World Anti-Doping Code.
Armstrong says USADA doesn't have the authority to vacate his Tour titles. USADA chief executive Travis Tygart thinks otherwise.
Tygart called the Armstrong case a "heartbreaking" example of a win-at-all costs approach.
"If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA's process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and once and for all put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance," Armstrong said. "But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair."
Armstrong, who retired last year, declined to enter arbitration, his last option. He has consistently pointed to hundreds of drug tests that he has passed as proof of his innocence.
Such an implosion of an athletic career has been common in cycling in recent years, as doping has crippled the sport. Several recent Tour de France champions have been found guilty of doping, including American Floyd Landis and two-time winner Alberto Contador of Spain. But none of them had the stature of Armstrong.
Although it is likely that the International Cycling Union, the world's governing body for cycling, will appeal his suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Armstrong's choice to accept his sanction tarnishes the athletic achievements of an athlete who inspired millions with his story of cancer survival.
The brash Texan who turns 41 next month was already a world-champion cyclist when he was found to have testicular cancer in 1996, at 25. He had a razor-thin chance of survival, but he pushed ahead to beat the disease.
"I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours,'' Armstrong said in his statement. "We all raced together. For three weeks over the same roads, the same mountains, and against all the weather and elements that we had to confront. There were no shortcuts, there was no special treatment. The same courses, the same rules. The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that.''