Once considered a hero and an inspiration, Lance Armstrong suffered a stunning fall from grace beginning in June 2012, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) charged him with using performance-enhancing drugs, stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles, and banned him from cycling for life. Six months later after a decade of denials, Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he began using testosterone, EPO, and blood transfusions in the mid-1990s and the illegal substances contributed to each of his Tour de France victories.
At 13, Armstrong won the Kids Iron Triathlon, an event combining swimming, biking, and running. He later began entering triathlons for money, winning $20,000 when he was 15.
As a high school senior Armstrong qualified to train with the U.S. Olympic team. He later made cycling his sport. In 1993 he won ten titles and was called the “Golden Boy of American Cycling.” By 1996 Armstrong was the top-ranked cyclist in the world. But later that year, he was diagnosed with cancer and forced to undergo three operations and chemotherapy. The treatment was ultimately successful, and Armstrong became a powerful advocate for cancer research. He founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation to promote cancer research and awareness, and wrote the best-selling book It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.
In 1998, Armstrong married Kristin Richard of Austin, Tex. They have a son and twin daughters, but divorced in Dec. 2003. In 1996, he also returned to racing, winning the Tour de Luxembourg, the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfarht in Germany, and the Cascade Classic in Oregon. He took fourth place in both the World Championships in Holland and the Tour de Spain. He won a bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
In 1999 Armstrong was the surprise winner of the grueling Tour de France, which winds through the Alps and Pyranees. He won the race again in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, becoming the first cyclist to take the Tour for six straight victories and after racing for a seventh win in 2005, he retired.
In 2004, Armstrong began a relationship with singer Sheryl Crow. He also helped launch the Livestrong campaign, a fundraiser supported by the sale of millions of yellow bracelets with proceeds going to cancer survivors through the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
In February 2006, five months after their announced engagement, Armstrong and Sheryl Crow ended their relationship. A few weeks later, Crow announced she was being treated for breast cancer. Three months later, Armstong was cleared of doping allegations that stemmed from a drug test taken in 1999. The report stated that the retesting of the sample fell far below scientific standards. For the eighth year in a row, an American won the Tour de France in 2006. Former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis won the tour as the leader of the Phonak team, but lost the title later on when he tested positive for synthetic testosterone. Armstrong's team Discovery did not fair well, with Jose Azevedo the highest placed rider in 19th place, more than 38 minutes behind Landis.
In June 2009, Armstrong reemerged to win the Nevada City Classic—one of the most difficult professional cycling races in the United States. A month later, Armstrong finishes third in the Tour de France and teammate Alberto Contador won the race. Less than two years later, in February 2011, Armstrong announced—again—that he's retiring from cycling amid continued allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
In June 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) charged Armstrong with using performance-enhancing drugs. The following month, Armstrong filed suit in federal court against the USADA. A judge dismissed the suit, and Armstrong refiled. Armstrong was given the option of going into arbitration over the case. In August, a federal judge dismissed Armstrong's suit. Armstrong refused to participate in arbitration and said he would not challenge the doping charges. The USADA banned Armstrong from cycling for life and stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles. The USADA released a lengthy report in October 2012 that detailed eyewitness accounts of Armstrong not only using performance-enhancing drugs, but also coercing teammates to do so. Armstrong finally came clean about his use of illegal drugs and banned substances in January 2013 in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. He said he considered taking performancing-enhancing drugs a perfuctory part of the sport, saying it was like putting "air in my tires."
"People who believed in me and believed me have every right to feel betrayed," he said. "I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people."