AUSTIN, Texas, Oct 20, 2012 (AFP) – Lance Armstrong has admitted to “difficult” times since the release of a report which accused the shamed cyclist of being at the heart of the most sophisticated doping programme ever seen in sport.
Making his first public remarks since the release of US Anti-Doping Agency’s damning report, Armstrong did not refer directly to the scandal, saying: “It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family, my friends and this foundation.
“We will not be deterred. We will move forward.”
The 41-year-old American made his comments to 1,500 guests at a gala fundraiser for cancer charity Livestrong, which he founded 15 years ago after fighting testicular cancer.
But on Wednesday he stepped down as chairman of Livestrong in an effort to protect the foundation from the scandal swirling around him.
That was the same day that corporate sponsors, including sportswear giant Nike, dropped him in the uproar over the USADA report, which cites more than two dozen witnesses including some former team-mates and accuses Armstrong of being at the heart of sport’s “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme”.
World cycling’s governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) will respond to the report on Monday, and whether it backs USADA’s demand that Armstrong be banned for life and stripped of the seven Tour de France titles that made him a sports icon.
UCI president Pat McQuaid will also come under scrutiny for his handling of doping issues in cycling.
Anne Gripper, who ran UCI’s anti-doping arm from 2006 to early 2010, told The Age newspaper in Australia that the UCI should have handled things better.
The USADA report, Gripper said, showed “not so much that he (Armstrong) was a doping cheat – I think everybody accepts that just about all cyclists were doing it – but the way he orchestrated that programme and, more importantly, the bullying (and) the tactics used to influence the behaviour and choices of young impressionable riders”.
Gripper also accused Armstong of telling “the sport how to administer its rules”, in reference to the UCI waiving a 13-day window to allow the Texan to race the 2009 Tour Down Under.
“I have always said that Armstrong’s influence was a danger in the sport,” Gripper told The Age. “He was allowed to ride in the 2009 Tour Down Under. He shouldn’t have been. Once again, for Lance, special consideration was provided.”
Gripper added: “The UCI may have failed to take some actions that we should have taken at the time but since 2006 we have been really committed to this issue.”
Asked if she felt McQuaid faced a limited future at the UCI, Gripper said: “I don’t know – I know his commitment to this was very strong while I was there. It may have wavered a bit.
“I heard Pat say the other night, ‘We test and test and test as much as we can and send all the samples to the labs and that’s all we can do’.
“Well, it’s not, Pat, there’s lots more that can be done.
“It’s not just about testing because we know in many ways testing is the most ineffective way of eliminating doping … There are so many more things the UCI can do.
“The issue for the UCI is communication. It is time to stand up and acknowledge some of the past.”
Armstrong’s ex-wife Kristin — accused in the USADA report of being complicit in her former husband’s doping, implied in her latest blog for runnersworld.com that she had kept her silence for the sake of her family that includes three children by Lance.
“I know what truth is. I know my past. Not telling or selling my tales to the press is my choice – one that I made primarily for my children,” she said.
“And there are many things that I am not free to discuss because I am constrained by legal principles like marital privilege, confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.
“To the world, Lance may be a source of admiration or suspicion, but to me he is simply my wasband (former husband) and the father of my children. His choices were, and are, his. And mine are mine. And they haven’t always been pretty.”
Back in Texas, Lance Armstrong, now an outcast in cycling, said it was imperative that the Livestrong foundation continue to fulfill its aims.
“The mission absolutely must go on,” he said, as Livestrong confirmed that donations continued to flow in, with Friday’s event — attended by Hollywood heavyweights Robin Williams and Sean Penn — raising $2.5 million.
Early Sunday morning, Armstrong is expected to address nearly 4,000 cyclists before the start of the Livestrong Challenge, an annual fundraising race that starts in the heart of Austin.
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