What could be the last major investigation into suggestions that Lance Armstrong, modern cycling's most successful racer, used performance-enhancing drugs during his career has been dropped.
A tersely worded three-sentence statement released on Friday by US federal prosecutors confirmed that nearly two years worth of evidence garnered across two continents, including subpoenas and grand jury testimonies of former team-mates, had been shelved.
Armstrong, who retired for good early in 2011 following a comeback, has consistently denied any involvement in doping. However, claims by high-profile team-mates such as Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton that the seven-times Tour de France winner took drugs, kept the case in the public eye and cast a shadow over Armstrong's reputation.
No reason was given as to why the investigation into the Texan, spearheaded by Jeff Novitzky, an investigator with a formidable track record in doping cases, ended so abruptly and on such a low-key note.
There has been speculation that matters were complicated legally by the fact that the investigation's main thrust was not into doping per se, but rather to determine if Armstrong and others in his US Postal team had infringed federal laws against fraud, racketeering or criminal conspiracy.
Within that investigation, the federal agents looked at whether a doping programme had taken place, or whether Armstrong had facilitated or encouraged doping during his reign as Tour de France champion for a team who received government money.
"I am gratified to learn that the US Attorney's Office is closing its investigation," Armstrong said in a statement. "It is the right decision and I commend them for reaching it."
Others were not so impressed. Betsy Andreu, whose husband Frankie – a former-team-mate of the Texan's – accused Armstrong of doping, said "the legal system has failed us".
Others in the world of cycling said that regardless of their own opinion, they were glad that a verdict had been reached and the sport could move on. "I don't know anything more than what I've read in the newspapers, [but] it's really good that they've come to a decision, it's not going to keep dragging on, and everybody's [not] going to be kind of waiting on this one," said Michael Barry, a British-born pro and former team-mate of Armstrong earlier in his career.
The US Anti-Doping Agency were quoted on Friday as saying they would not be dissuaded by the closure of the Armstrong investigation. "Unlike the US Attorney, USADA's job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws," said their spokesman Travis Tygart.
"Our investigation into doping is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation."
The world champion Mark Cavendish has fallen ill during the build-up to the Tour of Qatar, which starts today, but his Sky team say they still expect he will be able to take part. "He got some flu symptoms during the flight out here," said road coach Rod Ellingworth. "With some rest hopefully it'll clear up."Reuse content