Amid news that Lance Armstrong will quit fighting doping allegations (a move that will likely result in him being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles), it's tough to remember that just two years ago, he was the face of what's now known as the USA Pro Challenge, a bicycle race currently thrilling fans statewide.
Then, he was a glamorous get for organizers of the event, with then-Governor Bill Ritter happily posing alongside him. Now, he's a sports pariah. How'd it happen?
Armstrong's fall has been a long time coming. Well over a decade ago, when he was still winning Tour de France accolades, a friend of mine who works at ESPN The Magazine told me he had sources who felt certain the Live Strong hero had been improperly enhancing his pedaling performances, and those whispers grew steadily louder as time went on. But in the months that followed the August 2010 team-up of Armstrong and Ritter at the State Capitol to announce what was originally dubbed the Quiznos Pro Challenge, they became impossible to ignore.
Bill Ritter speaking at the August 2010 Quiznos Pro Challenge announcement, with Armstrong in the background.
In April 2011, Bicycling editor and Tour de Lance author Bill Strickland joined the Armstrong-is-doping chorus. Then, in May, Boulder-based cyclist and accused doper Tyler Hamilton pointed his finger at Armstrong on 60 Minutes. Armstrong and Hamilton later got into a pissy altercation at an Aspen bar.
With all this going on, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (name number two) announced in the spring of last year that Armstrong would have little or no involvement in the race, allegedly because he'd announced his retirement and organizers wanted to give him some space -- although it wasn't tough to read between those lines, especially when he played zero role in the inaugural contest.
Armstrong was the center of attention.
Now, Armstrong has announced that he's decided to stop fighting charges brought against him by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He also maintains his innocence in a statement on view below in its entirety, but that will be a mighty tough sell.
Meanwhile, the USA Pro Challenge appears to be a booming success in its second year, as evidenced by the recap of yesterday's events that follow Armstrong's words. From all indications, the race will live on over the long haul despite the ignominy that's been visited upon the man who officially co-founded it.
Lance Armstrong statement:
There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, "Enough is enough." For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by Travis Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt. 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. I had hoped that a federal court would stop USADA's charade. Although the court was sympathetic to my concerns and recognized the many improprieties and deficiencies in USADA's motives, its conduct, and its process, the court ultimately decided that it could not intervene.
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. But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair. Regardless of what Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims. The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colors. I made myself available around the clock and around the world. In-competition. Out of competition. Blood. Urine. Whatever they asked for I provided. What is the point of all this testing if, in the end, USADA will not stand by it?
From the beginning, however, this investigation has not been about learning the truth or cleaning up cycling, but about punishing me at all costs. I am a retired cyclist, yet USADA has lodged charges over 17 years old despite its own 8-year limitation. As respected organizations such as UCI and USA Cycling have made clear, USADA lacks jurisdiction even to bring these charges. The international bodies governing cycling have ordered USADA to stop, have given notice that no one should participate in USADA's improper proceedings, and have made it clear the pronouncements by USADA that it has banned people for life or stripped them of their accomplishments are made without authority. And as many others, including USADA's own arbitrators, have found, there is nothing even remotely fair about its process. USADA has broken the law, turned its back on its own rules, and stiff-armed those who have tried to persuade USADA to honor its obligations. At every turn, USADA has played the role of a bully, threatening everyone in its way and challenging the good faith of anyone who questions its motives or its methods, all at U.S. taxpayers' expense. For the last two months, USADA has endlessly repeated the mantra that there should be a single set of rules, applicable to all, but they have arrogantly refused to practice what they preach. On top of all that, USADA has allegedly made deals with other riders that circumvent their own rules as long as they said I cheated. Many of those riders continue to race today.
The bottom line is I played by the rules that were put in place by the UCI, WADA and USADA when I raced. The idea that athletes can be convicted today without positive A and B samples, under the same rules and procedures that apply to athletes with positive tests, perverts the system and creates a process where any begrudged ex-teammate can open a USADA case out of spite or for personal gain or a cheating cyclist can cut a sweetheart deal for themselves. It's an unfair approach, applied selectively, in opposition to all the rules. It's just not right.
USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles. 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. 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. Especially not Travis Tygart.
Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances. I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities. This October, my Foundation will celebrate 15 years of service to cancer survivors and the milestone of raising nearly $500 million. We have a lot of work to do and I'm looking forward to an end to this pointless distraction. I have a responsibility to all those who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to the cancer cause. I will not stop fighting for that mission. Going forward, I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year old on the planet.
An image from last year's USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
USA Pro Challenge Stage 4 Recap and Quotes:
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Fan Favorite Jens Voigt of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek Dominates Stage 4 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge
BMC Racing Team Rider Tejay van Garderen Re-Claims Overall Lead to Cheers of Massive Crowds in Beaver Creek
Beaver Creek, Colo. (Aug. 23, 2012) -- In an impressive solo breakaway that began less than an hour into Stage 4 of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge, Jens Voigt (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek powered through the 97.2-mile course to take home the win in front of massive crowds lining the uphill finish in Beaver Creek. More than five minutes later, the peloton crossed the finish line with Andreas Kloden (GER) of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek and Tejay van Garderen (USA) of BMC Racing Team taking second and third, respectively. In what has been a daily battle to the second for the overall lead, van Garderen reclaimed the top spot and will wear the Exergy Leader Jersey for a second day tomorrow.
"It's a huge honor for me to be in the Exergy Leader Jersey in my home state.," said van Garderen. "I've lived here a long time now, and this is definitely home for me. I love being here, racing here and seeing the crowd."
Stage 4 of the race kicked off this morning in Aspen and took the riders back over Independence Pass and through two other Nissan King of the Mountains competitions and two Waste Management sprints.
As the riders headed out of town and almost immediately began the climb back up Cat. 1 Independence Pass (12.095 ft.), a breakaway of about 16 riders formed off the front, which included Voigt and KOM contender Camilo Castiblanco (COL) of EPM-UNE. As they continued up the climb, Voigt pulled away on a solo breakaway, followed by a couple of chase groups that would eventually merge before cresting the top of the summit.
With a solid five-minute lead, Voigt crossed the line at the top of fan-packed Independence Pass first to take maximum points. In an effort to gain some ground in the KOM competition, Castiblanco struck out on his own from the chase to take second place, followed by Lachlan David Morton (AUS) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda in third.
"When I got to Independence Pass, there were so many spectators cheering me on that I forgot the pain, and tried not to lose momentum on the descent," said Voigt.
On the descent, the riders formed more clearly defined groups with Voigt off the front, a group of chasers that were at one point his breakaway companions 2:25 behind him and the peloton, trailing by a full 6:35.
With a commanding lead, Voigt was the first to cross the Waste Management sprint in Leadville, followed by Lachlan David Morton (AUS) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda and Rubens Bertogliati (SUI) of Team Type 1-SANOFI. Moving toward the next KOM of the day, the chase group was swallowed up by the peloton, leaving only Voigt left out in front.
After an unsuccessful attempt by the Liquigas-Cannondale riders to reel Voigt in, he headed over Cat. 3 Battle Mountain (9,239 ft.) to take the max points, followed by Castiblanco and Javier Eduardo Gomez Pineda (COL) of EPM-UNE. Next faced with the last sprint of the day in Minturn, Voigt took first, with Tyler Farrar (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda coming in second and Damiano Caruso (ITA) of Liquigas-Cannondale in third.
With riders getting dropped from the back of the main field as they picked up the pace toward the finish, Voigt took the stage win to the cheers of enthusiastic fans in Beaver Creek.
"I got an extra minute, then six, and from then on the only thing that could stop me was a deer running into my bike!," said Voigt. "I started to raise my hopes, and even realized that I had enough time to slow down and enjoy it. I just soaked up the emotions from the crowd. It was a hard day, but a very happy day."
Defending Champion Levi Leipheimer sits only eight seconds behind van Garderen in fourth place, so with three more days of action-packed riding, it's still anyone's race.
"The enthusiasm shown by the pros participating in the 2012 USA Pro Challenge and the incredible crowds of fans lining the route each day is simply amazing," said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the Pro Challenge. "The level of competition that is being displayed here on the streets of Colorado -- evidenced by how close the standings remain after four days of intense racing -- is quite a sight to see."
In an exciting moment during the awards ceremony, 2010 Olympic Downhill Gold Medalist and four-time overall World Cup Champion Lindsey Vonn presented a lifetime Vail Resorts season ski pass to Voigt.
For the jerseys, van Garderen reclaimed the Exergy Leader Jersey. Caruso held onto the Waste Management Sprint Jersey. Tom Danielson (USA) of Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda kept the Nissan King of the Mountains Jersey. Joseph Lloyd Dombrowski (USA) of Bontrager Livestrong Team maintained the Aquadraat Best Young Rider Jersey. Voigt was awarded the Evolve Most Aggressive Rider Jersey for his amazing effort in the stage.
More from our Sports archive: "Lance Armstrong-Tyler Hamilton tiff in Aspen's Cache Cache now a federal case?"