The champagne toasts on the Champs-Elysees and the two-fingered "V" for victory signs he flashed while pedalling to the finish line.
The excruciating mountain climbs and the explosions of power that pushed him past other heaving cyclists on narrow Alpine roads.
The legions of fans wearing yellow Livestrong bracelets cheering on the cancer survivor whose grit and determination gave them hope.
Faded images are all that remain of the unprecedented cycling career of Lance Armstrong.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency erased the rest of it on Friday.
It wiped out 14 years of Armstrong's career — including his record seven Tour de France titles — and barred him for life from the sport after concluding he used banned substances.
USADA said it expected cycling's governing body to take similar action, but the International Cycling Union was measured in its response, saying it first wanted a full explanation of why Armstrong should relinquish Tour titles he won from 1999 through 2005.
The Amaury Sport Organization, which runs the world's most prestigious cycling race, said it would not comment until hearing from the UCI and USADA. The U.S. agency contends the cycling body is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code to strip Armstrong of one of the most incredible achievements in sports.
Armstrong, who retired a year ago and turns 41 next month, said Thursday he would no longer challenge USADA and declined to exercise his last option by entering arbitration. He denied again that he ever took banned substances in his career, calling USADA's investigation a "witch hunt" without any physical evidence.
He is now officially a drug cheat in the eyes of his nation's doping agency.
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart described the investigation as a battle against a "win-at-all-cost culture," adding that the UCI was "bound to recognize our decision and impose it."
"They have no choice but to strip the titles under the code," he said.
That would leave Greg LeMond as the only American to win the Tour de France, having done so in 1986, 1989 and 1990.
Armstrong on Friday sent a tweet that he's still planning to ride in a mountain bike race in Aspen, Colo., on Saturday and follow it up with running a marathon on Sunday, but he did not comment directly on the sanctions.
The UCI and USADA have engaged in a turf war over who should prosecute allegations against Armstrong. The UCI event backed Armstrong's failed legal challenge to USADA's authority, and it cited the same World Anti-Doping Code in saying that it wanted to hear more from the U.S. agency.
"As USADA has claimed jurisdiction in the case, the UCI expects that it will issue a reasoned decision" explaining the action taken, the Switzerland-based organization said in a statement. It said legal procedures obliged USADA to fulfil this demand in cases "where no hearing occurs."
If Tour de France officials follow USADA's lead and announces that Armstrong has been stripped of his titles, Jan Ullrich could be promoted to champion in three of those years. Ullrich was stripped of his third-place finish in the 2005 Tour and retired from racing two years later after being implicated in another doping scandal.
The retired German racer expressed no desire to rewrite the record book of cycling's greatest event, even though he would be the biggest beneficiary.
"I know how the order was on the finishing line at the time," Ullrich said. "I've finished with my professional career and have always said that I was proud of my second-place finishes."
The International Olympic Committee said Friday it will await decisions by USADA and UCI before taking any steps against Armstrong, who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. Besides the disqualifications, Armstrong will forfeit any medals, winnings, points and prizes, USADA said, but it is the lost titles that now dominate his legacy.
Every one of Armstrong's competitive races from Aug. 1, 1998, has been vacated by USADA, established in 2000 as the official anti-doping agency for Olympic sports in the United States. Since Armstrong raced in UCI-sanctioned events, he was subject to international drug rules enforced in the U.S. by USADA. Its staff joined a federal criminal investigation of Armstrong that ended earlier this year with no charges being filed.
USADA, which announced its investigation in June, said its evidence came from more than a dozen witnesses "who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their firsthand experience and/or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the USPS conspiracy," a reference to Armstrong's former U.S. Postal Service cycling team.
The unidentified witnesses said they knew or had been told by Armstrong himself that he had "used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone" from before 1998 through 2005, and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and Human Growth Hormone through 1996, USADA said. Armstrong also allegedly handed out doping products and encouraged banned methods — and even used "blood manipulation including EPO or blood transfusions" during his 2009 comeback race on the Tour.
In all, USADA said up to 10 former Armstrong teammates were set to testify against him. Included in the case were emails sent by Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, describing an elaborate doping program on Armstrong's Postal Service teams, and Tyler Hamilton's interview with "60 Minutes" claiming had personal knowledge of Armstrong doping.
Had Armstrong chosen to pursue arbitration, USADA said, all the evidence would have been available for him to challenge.
"He chose not to do this knowing these sanctions would immediately be put into place," the statement said.
The decision surprised riders around the world.
At the Spanish Vuelta, riders including former rival and teammate Alberto Contador joined ex-Armstrong coach Johan Bruyneel in offering support. Another former rival, Filippo Simeoni, wondered why Armstrong dropped his fight.
"It leaves me a bit perplexed, because someone like him, with all the fame and popularity and millions of dollars he has, should fight to the end if he's innocent," Simeoni said. "But I guess he realized it was a useless fight and the evidence USADA had was too great."
In San Diego, Landis avoided reporters' questions about Armstrong, saying only: "I really don't know what the solution is for the sport of cycling. That's not my issue anymore."
Landis on Friday agreed to repay donors nearly a half-million dollars that he raised to challenge doping allegations — a deal reached with federal prosecutors that may spare him criminal charges of lying to supporters about his drug use.
At the USA Pro Challenge in Breckenridge, Colo., longtime friend Jim Ochowicz said he supported Armstrong's decision.
"He has done so much for our sport over the years and I am sad at what has transpired," he said. "I think he has earned every victory he's had."
Bruyneel said Armstrong was the victim of an "unjust" legal case.
"Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been," Bruyneel wrote on his personal website. The Belgian, who manages the Radioshack Nissan-Trek team, has his own legal battle with USADA. He has opted for arbitration to fight charges that he led doping programs for Armstrong's teams.
Armstrong said he has grown tired of defending himself in a seemingly endless fight against charges that he doped while piling up more Tour victories than anyone. He has consistently pointed to the hundreds of drug tests that he passed as proof of his innocence during his extraordinary run of Tour titles.
"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough.' For me, that time is now," Armstrong said Thursday night, before the deadline to enter arbitration.
"Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances," he said. "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."
Armstrong was still relatively unknown in the U.S. until he won the Tour for the first time in 1999 in the ultimate comeback tale: When diagnosed with testicular cancer, doctors had given him less than a 50 per cent chance of survival before surgery and brutal rounds of chemotherapy saved his life.
Armstrong's victories, his work for cancer awareness and his romances with rocker Sheryl Crow, fashion designer Tory Burch and actress Kate Hudson made him a celebrity who transcended sports.
His success helped sell millions of the "Livestrong" plastic bracelets and enabled him to promote cancer awareness and research, raising nearly $500 million US since his Lance Armstrong Foundation was started in 1997.
Foundation officials said they remained "proud" of Armstrong and had received hundreds of messages of support from donors, partners and supporters since his announcement. Among them was Nike Inc., which said it planned to continue supporting Armstrong and the foundation.
"Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position," the company said.
American Century Investments, another partner, said: "While the actions taken against Lance are unfortunate, we understand his decision to drop his challenge to the USADA charges. The USADA may sanction Lance and attempt to strip his titles, but no one can take away what he's done for the 28 million people around the world living with cancer."
Armstrong retired in 2005 and almost immediately considered a comeback before deciding to stay on the sidelines — in part because of all the doping questions. Three years later, Armstrong was 36 and itching to ride again. He came back to finish third in the 2009 Tour de France.
Armstrong raced again in 2010 under the cloud of the federal investigation. Early last year, he quit for good, making a brief return as a triathlete until the USADA investigation shut him down.
"He had a right to contest the charges," WADA President John Fahey said. "He chose not to. The simple fact is that his refusal to examine the evidence means the charges had substance in them."
Full statement from U.S. Anti-Doping Agency
USADA announced today that Lance Armstrong has chosen not to move forward with the independent arbitration process and as a result has received a lifetime period of ineligibility and disqualification of all competitive results from August 1, 1998 through the present, as the result of his anti-doping rule violations stemming from his involvement in the United States Postal Service (USPS) Cycling Team Doping Conspiracy (USPS Conspiracy).
Following the dismissal of Mr. Armstrong's lawsuit on Monday, August 20, 2012, by the federal court in Austin, Texas, Mr. Armstrong had until midnight on Thursday, August 23, to contest the evidence against him in a full evidentiary hearing with neutral arbitrators as provided by U.S. law. However, when given the opportunity to challenge the evidence against him, and with full knowledge of the consequences, Mr. Armstrong chose not to contest the fact that he engaged in doping violations from at least August 1, 1998 and participated in a conspiracy to cover up his actions. As a result of Mr. Armstrong's decision, USADA is required under the applicable rules, including the World Anti-Doping Code under which he is accountable, to disqualify his competitive results and suspend him from all future competition.
"Nobody wins when an athlete decides to cheat with dangerous performance enhancing drugs, but clean athletes at every level expect those of us here on their behalf, to pursue the truth to ensure the win-at-all-cost culture does not permanently overtake fair, honest competition" said USADA CEO, Travis T. Tygart. "Any time we have overwhelming proof of doping, our mandate is to initiate the case through the process and see it to conclusion as was done in this case."
As is every athlete's right, if Mr. Armstrong would have contested the USADA charges, all of the evidence would have been presented in an open legal proceeding for him to challenge. He chose not to do this knowing these sanctions would immediately be put into place.
The evidence against Lance Armstrong arose from disclosures made to USADA by more than a dozen witnesses who agreed to testify and provide evidence about their firsthand experience and/or knowledge of the doping activity of those involved in the USPS Conspiracy as well as analytical data. As part of the investigation Mr. Armstrong was invited to meet with USADA and be truthful about his time on the USPS team but he refused.
On June 12, 2012, USADA issued a notice letter informing Mr. Armstrong and five other individuals, including the USPS team director, team trainer and three team doctors, of USADA's intent to open proceedings against them. On June 28, 2012, following a review process set forth in the applicable rules, USADA notified Mr. Armstrong and the other five individuals that the independent review panel's finding confirmed sufficient and in fact overwhelming evidence, and that USADA was charging them with rule violations.
Numerous witnesses provided evidence to USADA based on personal knowledge acquired, either through direct observation of doping activity by Armstrong or through Armstrong's admissions of doping to them that Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period from before 1998 through 2005, and that he had previously used EPO, testosterone and hGH through 1996. Witnesses also provided evidence that Lance Armstrong gave to them, encouraged them to use and administered doping products or methods, including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period from 1999 through 2005. Additionally, scientific data showed Mr. Armstrong's use of blood manipulation including EPO or blood transfusions during Mr. Armstrong's comeback to cycling in the 2009 Tour de France.
The anti-doping rule violations for which Mr. Armstrong is being sanctioned are:
(1)Use and/or attempted use of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents.
(2)Possession of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions and related equipment (such as needles, blood bags, storage containers and other transfusion equipment and blood parameters measuring devices), testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents.
(3)Trafficking of EPO, testosterone, and corticosteroids.
(4)Administration and/or attempted administration to others of EPO, testosterone, and cortisone.
(5)Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations and/or attempted anti-doping rule violations.
These activities are defined as anti-doping rule violations under the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing, the United States Olympic Committee National Anti-Doping Policies, USA Cycling rules and the International Cycling Union (UCI) Anti-Doping Rules (UCI ADR), all of which have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code (Code) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List.
In accordance with the Code, aggravating circumstances including involvement in multiple anti-doping rule violations and participation in a sophisticated doping scheme and conspiracy as well as trafficking, administration and/or attempted administration of a prohibited substance or method, justify a period of ineligibility greater than the standard sanction. Accordingly, Mr. Armstrong has received a lifetime period of ineligibility for his numerous anti-doping rule violations, including his involvement in trafficking and administering doping products to others. A lifetime period of ineligibility as described in the Code prevents Mr. Armstrong from participating in any activity or competition organized by any signatory to the Code or any member of any signatory.
In addition to the lifetime ban, Mr. Armstrong will be disqualified from any and all competitive results obtained on and subsequent to August 1, 1998, including forfeiture of any medals, titles, winnings, finishes, points and prizes.
As noted above, Mr. Armstrong challenged the arbitration process in federal court. In response, the court found that "the USADA arbitration rules, which largely follow those of the American Arbitration Association (AAA) are sufficiently robust to satisfy the requirements of due process." USADA's rules provide that where an athlete or other person is sanctioned because they fail to contest USADA's charges in arbitration, the sanction shall not be reopened or subject to appeal unless the athlete or other person can demonstrate that he did not receive actual or constructive notice of the opportunity to contest the sanction. Because Mr. Armstrong could have had a hearing before neutral arbitrators to contest USADA's evidence and sanction and he voluntarily chose not to do so, USADA's sanction is final.
In an effort to aid athletes, as well as all support team members such as parents and coaches, in understanding the rules applicable to them, USADA provides comprehensive instruction on its website on the testing process and prohibited substances, how to obtain permission to use a necessary medication, and the risks and dangers of taking supplements as well as performance-enhancing and recreational drugs. In addition, the agency manages a drug reference hotline, Drug Reference Online (www.GlobalDRO.com), conducts educational sessions with National Governing Bodies and their athletes, and proactively distributes a multitude of educational materials, such as the Prohibited List, easy-reference wallet cards, periodic newsletters, and protocol and policy reference documentation.