Lance Armstrong was once an icon. In 1993, he became the professional world champion of the Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championship. In 1996, at the age of 25, he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer. He was free of cancer by 1997 and, in that same year, founded the nonprofit organization the Lance Armstrong Foundation (now the Livestrong Foundation) to support cancer patients and others affected by cancer. This organization went on to raise nearly $400 million through the sale of yellow Livestrong bracelets and other fundraising efforts.
Between 1999 and 2005, Armstrong achieved an unprecedented seven consecutive wins of the Tour de France. But shadowing this success were allegations that he had used banned performance-enhancing drugs. After an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in 2012, evidence of Armstrong’s doping activities was verified. He was banned from Olympic sports for life and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.
In a 2013 televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong admitted, for the first time, to using banned performance-enhancing drugs for years. Armstrong noted that he did so to remain competitive because other cyclists were also doping. “The definition of ‘cheat’ is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have,” Armstrong told Winfrey, “I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.” He was not alone. Doping had become common in many sports during the 1990s. During the seven years that Armstrong won the Tour de France, 20 out of the 21 top three finishers were also found to have doped at some point in their careers.
Armstrong also encouraged his teammates on the U.S. cycling team to use performance-enhancing drugs and match his performance. The investigation into Armstrong’s doping revealed how extensive his use of drugs was, how he developed a system to maintain secrecy, and how his teammates were pressured into doping, as well. The report from the antidoping agency’s investigation stated, “It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced. He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and re-enforced it.” The agency also reported, “[Armstrong] acted with the help of a small army of enablers, including doping doctors, drug smugglers, and others within and outside the sport and on his team.” Teammate Christian Vande Velde described a confrontation with Armstrong, in which Armstrong threatened Vande Velde’s position on the team if he did not follow the drug program. Vande Velde stated that team doctor Luis Garcia del Moral “would run into the room and you would quickly find a needle in your arm,” referring to the injection as “vitamins.”
In the wake of Armstrong’s admission to doping, all sponsors cut ties with him. Armstrong estimated that he lost $75 million in a single day from his loss of sponsorship. The Livestrong Foundation also asked him to resign from its board. In a 2015 interview, when asked about his use of banned performance-enhancing drugs, Armstrong stated, “If I was racing in 2015, no I wouldn’t do it again because I don’t think you have to do it again. If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive, I would probably do it again. People don’t like to hear that.”