Full Timeline of Lance Armstrong's Epic Rise and Fall

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2013

Full Timeline of Lance Armstrong's Epic Rise and Fall

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    The bigger they are, the harder they fall. 

    Lance Armstrong, one of the most important and iconic athletes of the 21st century, has  come clean, at least to some extent, about his history with performance-enhancing drugs. 

    As Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated indicates, Armstrong has admitted his PED use in his interview with Oprah:

    Lance Armstrong tells Oprah, 'Yes,' I took banned substances to enhance performance. Says he took EPO, blood doped, took PED's.

    — Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) January 18, 2013

    This is the final chapter in a long, controversial history for Armstrong that started nearly 14 years ago. He was supposed to be the hero that not only conquered all the odds to come back from a life-threatening disease, but helped turn a niche sport into a must-see event in this country.

    Now, after everything that has happened over the last eight months, Armstrong is focusing on trying to rebuild his brand and save whatever he can of his name. Whether that last part is possible or not remains to be seen, but there is a lot of work that has to be done.

    In light of the events involving Armstrong, here is a look back at how we got to this point. 

The Beginning

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    Before Lance Armstrong became Lance Armstrong, he was a good cyclist who didn't make any real dent in the mainstream. Basically, he was just like every other person in his sport as far as American audiences were concerned. 

    From 1993-96, Armstrong did win four major races. He was the winner of the 1993 UCI Road World Championships and United States National Road Race Championship. He also won the Clasica de San Sebastian in 1995 and La Fleche Wallonne in 1996. 

    It was a promising start to a budding career for Armstrong, feeling very much like the calm before the storm when you look back on it. 

    Everyone has a story of origin; this is Armstrong's. In order for you to fall hard back down to earth, you have to rise. While the rise would not come for a few more years, this was the appetizer we were fed before we would hail to the king. 

Cancer Diagnosis

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    The basis for everything Armstrong would do in his professional career was set in motion in October 1996. At the age of 25, he was diagnosed with cancer. A harrowing scenario for anyone to face, much less someone in the prime of his life and peak of his athletic ability.

    The cancer originally started in his testicles and made its way to his abdomen and lungs. He went through 12 weeks of chemotherapy starting in early October.

    In a telephone conference call (via the New York Times) held after announcing his cancer spread, Armstrong stated that the doctor put his chances of recovery between 65 and 85 percent. He also talked about hoping to resume his career one day:

    I intend to beat this disease. It's impossible to say when I'll be back racing, but I hold out hope to participate at the professional level in the 1997 season.

    --snip--

    This is something I got stuck with and now have to work through. I've said all along that I won't live as long as most people, this sport is too hard. The Tour de France is not a human event.

    At the time of his diagnosis, Armstrong was coming off a very successful season on the bike. He was the eighth-ranked cyclist in the world and won two Tour de France stages in 1995. 

The Comeback

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    After being declared cancer free, Armstrong then began his comeback quest on the bike and would build one of the most successful brands in sports history. 

    But before we can get to that, it is important to talk about the climb Armstrong had to deal with when he resumed his cycling career. 

    Armstrong's first event back was the 1998 Vuelta a Espana. He finished fourth in that event, making it clear that he had not only conquered cancer but had gotten himself back into peak physical condition to compete with the best the world had to offer. 

    Every comeback story needs a beginning. Even though this one didn't end in triumph right away for Armstrong, he was on the verge of dominating his sport like very few athletes in any sport have been able to do. 

Tour de France Dominance

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    As mentioned before, 1998 was the warm-up act for what was to come from Armstrong. He had been a good cyclist up to this point in his career, but now he was prepared to enter rarified air for an athlete in any sport. 

    Armstrong's coming-out party was the 1999 Tour de France. He became the first American to win the event since Greg LeMond, who won the event in back-to-back years in 1989-90 and three times overall. 

    But the success in France would not stop there. If it had, Armstrong wouldn't have become the iconic symbol that he did for years before the doping allegations and eventual confession consumed his life. 

    From 1999-2005, Armstrong won the Tour de France every year. His seven-year winning streak set a new Tour de France record, surpassing the five consecutive titles that Spain's Miguel Indurain won from 1991-95. 

    During Armstrong's streak, he won 23 individual stages if you include prologues and the time trials. He also won eight other events from 1999-05 and finished second in two other events during that time. 

Lance Armstrong: The Icon

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    During the time that Armstrong was dominating the Tour de France and cycling world, he was also cultivating the biggest brand in sports outside of Air Jordan. 

    Armstrong was all over the place when he was dominating his sport. Two years before he was winning the Tour de France, he established the Livestrong Foundation that would become his motto and a way of life for countless people all around the world. 

    The Livestrong bracelet became one of the must-have items. Even if you didn't have cancer, but had been affected by it, or even if you had no interest in sports and/or Armstrong, you knew what the yellow rubber bracelet meant. 

    In 2002, after winning his fourth Tour de France title, Armstrong was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. He became the first and, to date, only cyclist to have the honor bestowed upon him. 

    But Armstrong was so much more than just Livestrong. He was a mainstream celebrity, being treated like he was a Hollywood movie star. He made a cameo appearance in the 2003 movie Dodgeball, in which he gives Vince Vaughn's character advice about not giving up. 

    Armstrong dated Sheryl Crow for a few years in the mid-2000s. There was nowhere you could go without seeing or hearing something about him, his career or the Livestrong brand. 

The Allegations Begin

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    The moment he started having success on the bike, Armstrong became a target for accusations of performance-enhancing drugs. 

    In 2005, just weeks after Armstrong announced he would retire after he won his seventh and final Tour de France, a french newspaper reported (via CNN.com) that an investigation had found six urine samples from Armstrong came back positive for a performance-enhancing drug. 

    Armstrong went on The Larry King Show to discuss the allegations and tell the world that they were not true.

    "This thing stinks. I've said it for longer than seven years: I have never doped. I can say it again. But I've said it for seven years; it doesn't help. But the fact of the matter is I haven't (doped)," Armstrong told King.

    That would be just one of many allegations levied upon Armstrong. He steadfastly denied any and all of the accusations. 

    In 2006, Alan Abrahamson of the Los Angeles Times reported that there was sworn testimony accusing Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs. The records used in the report did state that he never failed a drug test and also swore under oath he never doped. 

    That same year, Juliet Macur of the New York Times reported that two of Armstrong's former teammates—one was identified as Frankie Andreu, while the other elected to speak anonymously—admitted to doping in 1999. They said they never saw Armstrong take any banned substances. 

The Screams Get Louder

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    When Armstrong stepped out of the spotlight following the 2005 Tour de France, the allegations didn't go away, but they weren't nearly as prevalent as they had been. 

    All that changed when Armstrong announced his intention to return to the Tour de France for 2009 and 2010. 

    Former teammate Floyd Landis, who had his 2006 Tour de France title stripped after arbitrators upheld a drug-test failure that showed synthetic testosterone, dropped the first big bomb, accusing Armstrong of failing a drug test in 2002 and having it covered up. 

    Landis' accusations were published in a report by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell of The Wall Street Journal. It includes specific details of how the procedures worked and how it was kept hidden from the outside world. 

    Within that same report is a quote by Armstrong, stating that Landis "lost his credibility a long time ago" because he lied under oath. 

    In 2011, Tyler Hamilton, who was another former teammate of Armstrong's, appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes and stated that he saw Armstrong take performance-enhancing drugs.

    "He took what we all took, really no difference between Lance Armstrong and I'd say the majority of the peloton, you know. There was EPO, there was testosterone, I did see a transfusion, a blood transfusion," Hamilton said.

    Hamilton also stated that Armstrong told him he failed a drug test in 2001. Armstrong also started donating money to the International Cycling Union, though the CBS report says it is unclear if that helped him avoid having it publicized. 

The Last Straw

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    All the years of allegations led to a moment in October 2012, when the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced (via the New York Times) that after one of the most comprehensive investigations in its history, the evidence against Armstrong was "overwhelming":

    USADA says the evidence it compiled against Armstrong is "overwhelming" and includes sworn testimony from 26 witnesses, including 15 riders with knowledge about the U.S. Postal Service Team's doping activities, as well as financial payments, emails, scientific data and lab tests that prove Armstrong used, possessed and distributed performance-enhancing drugs.

    After spending years of defending himself, his reputation, his brand and portraying himself as the victim of a witch hunt, Armstrong had all of his cycling victories from 1998 until his final retirement in 2011 stripped.

    It is like Armstrong's career on the course never happened. We all know he was declared the winner of those seven Tour de France races from 1999-2005, but officially, there is no record of it. There was nowhere left for him to go after USADA issued its report. 

The Confession

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    The last 14 years have led us to this week, where Armstrong admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs in the interview with Oprah Winfrey that will air in two segments on Thursday and Friday night.

    During an appearance on CBS This Morning (via ABC News), Oprah stated that although Armstrong did come clean, it was "in the manner [she] expected."

    "We were mesmerized and riveted by some of his answers. I feel that he answered the questions in a way that he was ready…He certainly had prepared himself for this moment…He brought it. He really did," Oprah said.

    Winfrey also stated that Armstrong did get emotional, though that doesn't "describe the intensity at times."

    In the same ABC report is a note that the federal government is looking at bringing a lawsuit against Armstrong since he lied under oath in the USADA report. 

    While Armstrong has admitted to using PEDs, many questions about how his legacy still remain.

Lance Answers Questions

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    In his interview with Oprah Winfrey on Thursday, Lance Armstrong admitted to using EPO, blood transfusions, blood doping and other banned substances, including testosterone.

    He also said he didn't think he would have won the Tour de France seven times without them, as Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated noted:

    Lance-Oprah starts with a series of yes/no questions. Admits to doping. Says he could not have won seven titles without it.

    — Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) January 18, 2013

     

    But contrary to some previous reports, Armstrong said he never did performance-enhancing drugs when he returned to cycling in 2009, or in 2010, as Jacquelin Magnay of the Telegraph pointed out:

    Lance armstrong says 2005 was last time he doped, claims not to have doped in 2009 or 2010.

    — Jacquelin Magnay (@jacquelinmagnay) January 18, 2013

     

    Armstrong confirmed the USADA reports that he began using PEDs in the mid-1990s, per Business Insider.

    The 41-year-old also admitted to bullying former U.S. Postal Service Team masseuse Emma O'Reilly and Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong's former teammate Frankie Andreu.

    While Armstrong was straightforward in stating O'Reilly's previous accusations were true, he wasn't as willing to talk about Andreu's claims. Andreu said she heard Armstrong admit to using PEDs in a hospital room, but he said he was "going to lay down on this one" when questioned by Oprah about it, per T.J. Quinn of ESPN.