Lance Armstrong rides with teammates during a training session on the eve… (Joel Saget / AFP/Getty Images )
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agencyhas filed charges accusing seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs at the height of his career.
Armstrong has steadfastly denied allegations that he doped while dominating cycling from 1999 to 2005, citing hundreds of negative drug tests in his defense. He must now decide whether to fight the charges in arbitration or accept the penalty, which could include giving up his Tour titles.
In a statement released after the USADA's decision, Armstrong attorney Robert Luskin indicated that an arbitration battle was looming.
Luskin called the three-person review board's decision "wrong and baseless" and "utterly predictable," and said USADA chief Travis Tygart was "obsessed" in his pursuit of Armstrong.
"There is not one shred of credible evidence to support USADA's charges and an unbroken record of more than 500 to 600 clean tests over more than a decade and a half to refute it," Luskin wrote. "In its zeal to punish Lance, USADA has sacrificed the very principles of fair play that it was created to safeguard.
"It has compiled a disgraceful record of arrogance … and contempt for due process."
USADA released its own statement, noting the independent review board "conducted a full evaluation … in accordance with the rules.
"All respondents will have the opportunity to exercise their right to a full public arbitration hearing … where all evidence would be presented, witness testimony would be given under oath, and an independent group of arbitrators would ultimately decide the outcome of the case."
Armstrong, 40, retired from cycling last year. The USADA says it has evidence he possessed, used and trafficked banned substances, including steroids and the blood-booster EPO, and that at least 10 former Armstrong associates would testify against the champion cyclist.
Also charged were team doctors Pedro Celaya Lezama and Luis Garcia del Moral, consulting physician Michele Ferrari and team trainer Pepe Marti.
The USADA is a quasi-governmental agency that is not empowered to criminally prosecute athletes. However, it can strip them of awards and ban them from competition.
A USADA spokesperson said if the Armstrong case went to arbitration it would probably be heard in October or November.
Luskin has said he believed the USADA had violated federal law by gathering evidence against the cyclist brought to a federal grand jury last year, and he criticized the agency for not sharing more of its evidence against Armstrong.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles declined this year to pursue criminal charges against Armstrong.
"We are two months away from the 2012 Olympic games and USADA is concentrating its efforts on pursuing a retired cyclist, on 16-year-old charges, who is not even competing in the Games," Luskin wrote.