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Lance Armstrong steps down as Livestrong chairman; several companies cut ties with him

AUSTIN, Texas

Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity and Nike, Anheuser-Busch and other sponsors said they were cutting ties with him as fallout from the doping scandal that has swirled around the famed cyclist escalated Wednesday.

Armstrong announced his move at the charity in an early morning statement, a week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a massive report detailing allegations of widespread doping by Armstrong and his teams when he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005.

Within minutes of Armstrong's resignation, Nike said it would end its relationship with him "due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade."

Nike said it also will take Armstrong's name off a fitness center at its Oregon headquarters but will continue to support Livestrong. Nike sells a line of Livestrong apparel and came up with the idea for the charity's yellow Livestrong rubber bracelet.

Armstrong, who denies ever doping, founded Livestrong in 1997. Jeff Garvey, the vice chairman of the organization, will become chairman, and Armstrong will remain on the foundation's board.

In the past, Nike stood by athletes such as National Basketball Association player Kobe Bryant, who was accused of sexual assault but never convicted, and golfer Tiger Woods, who gained international notoriety for his extramarital affairs. Nike severed ties with National Football League player Michael Vick when he went to prison for his role in a dogfighting ring but later re-signed him.

Beer-maker Anheuser-Busch did not give a reason for its action. A terse statement from U.S. marketing vice president Paul Chibe said simply: "We have decided not to renew our relationship with Lance Armstrong when our current contract expires at the end of 2012." He said the company would continue to support the Livestrong Foundation and its cycling and running events.

Other sponsors followed as the day went on: bicycle maker Trek, the energy drink FRS, the fitness club chain 24 Hour Fitness and Honey Stinger, a Colorado company that markets energy foods.

RadioShack said it had "no current obligations" to Armstrong under a sponsorship deal it agreed to in July 2009 but declined to disclose further details about its relationship.

Trek Bicycles said in a statement it was "disappointed by the findings and conclusions" of the antidoping agency's report but would support Livestrong.

Also in a statement, 24 Hour Fitness said, "Given the evidence surrounding Lance Armstrong's alleged actions, we have determined that our business relationship with Armstrong no longer aligns with our company's mission and values."

FRS said Armstrong will no longer appear in its ads and he has stepped down from its board.

Honey Stinger said in a statement it was removing Armstrong's image and endorsement from its packaging.

In contrast, Oakley, a maker of sunglasses, said it was withholding judgment until the International Cycling Union decides whether to challenge USADA's findings.

Armstrong was not paid as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

"This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart," he said in a statement. "Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship."

The antidoping agency's report was to show why the agency has banned Armstrong from cycling for life and ordered 14 years of his career results erased, including his Tour titles. It contains sworn statements from 26 witnesses, including 11 former teammates, financial statements and laboratory results.

Kelley O'Keefe, professor of brand strategy at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that the charity already may be permanently damaged and that Armstrong may never be able to fully resume his public role.

"From the brand perspective, Armstrong is done," O'Keefe said.

O'Keefe compared Armstrong to Woods and Vick, who were able to return to competition to help redeem their image.

"Armstrong doesn't have that. He's just a retired athlete with a tarnished image," O'Keefe said.

Armstrong's inspiring story of not only recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain but then winning the world's best-known bike race helped his foundation grow from a small operation in Texas into one of the most popular charities in the country.

Armstrong drew legions of fans — and donations — and insisted he was drug-free at a time when doping was rampant in professional cycling. In 2004, the foundation introduced the Livestrong bracelets, selling more than 80 million and creating a global symbol for cancer awareness and survivorship.

"As my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors," Armstrong said.

As chairman, Armstrong did not run day-to-day operations, which are handled by Livestrong president and chief executive Doug Ulman.

Ulman had said last week that Armstrong's leadership role would not change. Armstrong's statement said he will remain a visible advocate for cancer issues.

Information from the Associated Press, the New York Times and USA Today was used in this report.

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Tour de France titles Lance Armstrong was stripped of because of doping charges

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Years the Livestrong foundation has fought cancer

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Livestrong bracelets sold by the charity

Lance Armstrong steps down as Livestrong chairman; several companies cut ties with him 10/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 18, 2012 7:44am]

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