After years of whispers, Lance Armstrong has officially been labeled a drug cheat.
The US Anti-Doping Agency alleged that blood samples collected in 2009 and 2010 were "fully consistent" with blood doping, according to a 15-page charging letter made public Wednesday. Armstrong did not test positive during that stretch, but USADA officials believe the laboratory findings along with other evidence it has collected is enough to warrant doping charges.
"USADA only initiates matters supported by the evidence," USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. "We do not choose whether or not we do our job based on outside pressures, intimidation or for any reason other than the evidence. Our duty on behalf of clean athletes and those that value the integrity of sport is to fairly and thoroughly evaluate all the evidence available and when there is credible evidence of doping, take action under the established rules."
Armstrong, as he has throughout his decorated cycling career, denied the allegations in a statement.
"I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one," Armstrong said. "That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence."
The Washington Post was the first outlet to report the allegations on Wednesday.
The Department of Justice dropped its investigation of the seven-time Tour de France champion, 40, back in February. The government spent several months investigating whether Armstrong and his associates participated in a doping ring funded -- at least in part -- with sponsorship money from the US Postal Service.
USADA, while largely funded by US taxpayers, cannot bring criminal charges nor will Wednesday's allegations affect any of Armstrong's Tour de France titles. The most Armstrong will likely face is a two-year ban, a symbolic penalty of sorts since he's retired from competitive cycling.
The allegations, however, will prevent Armstrong from competing in his new passion, triathlons. It also taints an image built by not only his success in cycling, but also as a cancer survivor and the leader of a charity that has raised millions to combat the disease.
"These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation," Armstrong said in his statement. "These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity. Although USADA alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy extended over more than 16 years, I am the only athlete it has chosen to charge. USADA's malice, its methods, its star-chamber practices, and its decision to punish first and adjudicate later all are at odds with our ideals of fairness and fair play."
USADA must abide by an eight-year statute of limitations, which precludes the agency of attempting to invalidate all but Armstrong's last two Tour de France titles (2004 and 2005). The allegations, however, center around more recent samples, although the labs employed could not precisely determine if Armstrong had actually used endurance-boosting EPO or blood transfusions.
This is a so-called "non-analytical" case, which means USADA will rely on outside testimony on Armstrong's alleged improper conduct going back more than a decade to buttress whatever the lab results might show.
"For a significant part of the period from January 1, 1998 through the present, each of the respondents have been part of a doping conspiracy involving team officials, employees, doctors and elite cyclists of the United States Postal Service and the Discovery Channel teams who committed numerous violations," USADA testing results manager Lisa McCumber wrote in the charging document.
Besides Armstrong, the charging letter also names three doctors (Pedro Celaya, Luis Garcia del Moral and Michele Ferrari) and team manager Johan Bruyneel.
"Numerous riders, team personnel and others will testify based on personal knowledge acquired through observing Armstrong dope or through Armstrong's admissions of doping to them that Lance Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period from before 1998 through 2005," McCumber wrote in the document.
This case will go to the USADA Anti-Doping Review board and if the allegations are upheld, USADA can issue sanctions against Armstrong. At that point, Armstrong can appeal and have the case heard by an arbitration panel.