After the 1,000-page indictment as a drugs cheat, the multi-million dollar fall. Lance Armstrong, the hero turned doping villain of cycling, was today dumped by his most steadfast corporate defender in the shape of Nike Corporation and forced to step down from the charity he founded.
The American sportswear giant had stood by the 41-year-old cyclist until as recently as August despite growing case against him but today it summarily terminated its sponsorship deal with Armstrong and accused him of having misled it for more than a decade.
Nike’s move, which it said it was making in the face of “seemingly insurmountable evidence”, coincided with an announcement by Armstrong that he had ceased to act as chairman of the Livestrong Foundation, the charity he set up to help cancer survivors after his remarkable recovery from the disease.
Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch has followed Nike's lead in ditching Armstrong when its contract with him expires at the end of the year.
The Texan athlete, who continues to deny any involvement in doping despite the publication of a forensic report by United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which described him as the mastermind of a highly-sophisticated drugs ring, said he was stepping down to avoid damaging the foundation.
In a statement, Armstrong, who will remain on the charity’s board, said: “This organisation, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart. Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.”
The resignation was one of two events that cost the cyclist dear yesterday.
Nike, which said it will continue to support Livestrong, declined to comment on the value of its deal but sponsorship experts said it was likely the USADA report would cost Armstrong about £6m a year in lost endorsements. In 2005, the last year that the cyclist’s earnings were made public, he was earning $17m (£10.5m) a year from sponsors.
Radioshack, the American technology retailer, said yesterday it had ended its relationship with the sportsman, announcing that it had “no current obligations” to the seven times winner of the Tour de France.
In a statement, Nike said: “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”
Backed by testimony from 25 people, including 15 former riders on Armstrong’s US Postal Service cycling team, the USADA labelled the cyclist a “serial” cheat who had presided over “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.
The Texan, who was stripped of all his sporting titles including his Tour de France victories, said he was not contesting the findings but his lawyer described the report as a “one-side hatchet job”.
If the findings of the USADA are accepted by cycling’s world governing body, Armstrong could be exposed to a flood of lawsuits seeking to reclaim money received while he was at the pinnacle of his sporting career and lauded as one of the world’s most remarkable athletes.
The Sunday Times confirmed yesterday that it is considering taking legal action alleging fraud against Armstrong over an out-of-court settlement, reportedly worth £600,000, reached with the cyclist in a 2006 libel claim about a story that accused him of taking performance enhancing drugs.
A spokeswoman for the paper said it was “considering taking action to recover money spent on a libel case Armstrong brought and to pursue him for fraud”.