Aug. 23, 2012 -- It's being called one of the greatest frauds in the history of sport: Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs to cheat his way to the top, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, whose allegations will no longer be challenged by Armstrong.
Armstrong, 40, essentially walked away from the doping case the USADA brought against him, calling it an "unconstitutional witch hunt" and declining to fight it in arbitration. But even as he did so, Armstrong maintained his innocence.
"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," Armstrong said in a lengthy prepared statement Thursday evening. "But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair."
USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart reacted late Thursday to reports of Armstrong's decision not to enter arbitration, though the group said it had not yet received formal notice.
"It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes," Tygart said in a written statement. "This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition, but for clean athletes, it is a reassuring reminder that there is hope for future generations to compete on a level playing field without the use of performance-enhancing drugs."
Armstrong will now face a lifetime ban from all elite-level sports and the stripping of his tour titles, according to the USADA.
Armstrong, who is retired, argued that he never failed a drug test and that the USADA should not have the right to strip him of his titles.
"USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles," Armstrong said. "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."
The battle to avoid this moment has been epic. Armstrong enlisted help from Congress to pressure the Anti-Doping Agency and, through his team of high-powered lawyers, he sued USADA in federal court.
None of it worked, leaving Armstrong to face a reported 10 former teammates under oath and more damaging revelations. Rather than face them, he walked away.
So if he never failed a drug test, how did he cheat? A former teammate widely believed to be one of the Armstrong witnesses, Jonathan Vaughters, confessed his own doping on the New York Times opinion pages just two weeks ago, writing, "When I was racing in the 1990s and early 2000s, the rules were easily circumvented by any and all."
Convicted doper Floyd Landis, another Armstrong teammate, said he saw Armstrong using the performance enhancing drug EPO.
"I also received some from him," Landis told ABC News. "You know, rather than go into entire detail of every single time I've seen it: Yes, I saw Lance Armstrong using drugs."
Armstrong always boasted he was the most tested athlete in sports history -- but that may not have been quite true.
"We think it's around 300 separate tests that he's undergone and he has never had a positive test," his lawyer, Tim Herman, told "Nightline" in 2010. "The proof is really, as we say in Texas, the proof's in the pudding. ... Look at the pudding. There are 300 tests and there's not a single positive."
Armstrong retired after that. Yet, just two years later, in court filings, his attorneys had doubled the number, saying he'd faced, "500 to 600 drug tests without a single positive."
In declining to fight the USADA, Armstrong again cited his many negative drug tests.
"Regardless of what Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims," Armstrong said. "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?"
One of the earliest bits of doping evidence reportedly came in a hospital room in 1996 when he was recovering from cancer. A former teammate's wife, Betsy Andreau, testified under oath that Armstrong told doctors he'd used drugs on the bike.
"Lance, holding his IV, looking down, rattled off EPO, testosterone, steroids, growth hormone, cortisone -- and that was my introduction to performance enhancing drugs in the sport of cycling," Andreau said.
The hospital room story would become a sore spot for Armstrong, wrapped up in litigation in a civil case by a company that sought to avoid paying him a bonus by accusing him of cheating.
"How could it have taken place when I've never taken performance enhancing drugs? How could that have happened" Armstrong asked in a video deposition. "I've never taken drugs … Incidents like that could never have happened."
The anti-doping agency also claimed Armstrong used "fear, intimidation and coercion in an attempt to enforce of code of silence, or omerta."
To that point, investigators reportedly seized upon a recorded phone conversation from 2004, made by former Tour de France winner Greg Lemond as he talked to Armstrong's Oakley eyewear liaison and former friend, Stephanie McIlvain.
"So many people protect him it's just sickening," McIlvain said on the recording.
McIlvain, while publicly defending Armstrong, privately inferred to Lemond that Armstrong wasn't clean.
"The part that pisses me off about the whole thing, even if we were close right now, is how many people he's given false hope to," McIlvain said. "I think that is the most disgusting thing ever."
For some in the cancer community -- which benefitted greatly from Armstrong's battle against testicular cancer and the work done fighting cancer by his foundation -- cheating on the bike is outweighed by good done in the real world.
In the sport of cycling, Armstrong's fall is just another headache. Since his reign, so many close rivals have been caught up in doping scandals that nobody can figure out who gets the Tour de France wins that Armstrong may now have to forfeit.