Iconic US cyclist Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life for doping, the US Anti-Doping Agency said.
The move follows Armstrong's announcement on Thursday night that he would not pursue arbitration in a bid to clear himself of the doping charges brought against him by USADA in June.
"USADA announced today [Friday] 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," USADA said in a statement.
Armstrong has been one of the most successful and controversial cyclists of all time.
A cancer survivor, he returned to the sport after beating the illness and won the Tour de France an unprecedented seven times in succession from 1999 to 2005.
The USADA, a quasi-governmental agency created by the US Congress in 2000, formally charged Armstrong in June with doping and taking part in a conspiracy with members of his championship teams.
Five other cyclists have been accused of conspiring with Armstrong over the course of 14 years to hide doping activity.
The agency said in a letter to Armstrong that it has blood samples from 2009 and 2010 that are "fully consistent" with doping. In the letter, which was published in the Washington Post, the agency said it also has at least 10 former teammates and colleagues of Armstrong who will testify he used doping drugs during races from 1999 to 2005.
Lawyers for Armstrong contend the USADA gathered evidence by threatening to ruin the careers of fellow cyclists who have agreed to testify against him.
Armstrong's lawyers also argue that the agency's rules violate his right to a fair trial and that it lacks proper jurisdiction to charge him. In February, the justice department dropped an investigation centred on whether Armstrong and his teammates cheated the sponsor of their bike racing team, the US Postal Service, with a secret doping programme.
Armstrong's attorneys contend that he has "passed every drug test ever administered to him in his career – a total of 500 to 600 tests ... more drug tests than any athlete in history." They say the International Cycling Union has proper jurisdiction in the case. – Reuters, AFP