Depending on whom you ask, Lance Armstrong has proved as savvy—or as slippery—in the PR field as he was in the sport of cycling.
The seven-time Tour de France winner has spent years deflecting a barrage of allegations that he took performance enhancing drugs, to varying effect. Mention Armstrong at a party and you might as well start discussing politics. The man is controversial; he has a number of sympathizers and even more critics.
But in February it appeared Armstrong could breathe a sigh of relief when the Justice Department dropped its two-year investigation of him
That relief was short lived. Now, Armstrong is back in crisis PR mode.
The Washington Post on Wednesday reported
that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) brought formal charges against Armstrong, a move that prevents him from competing in triathlons and could strip him of his Tour de France titles.
On Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the story went live on the Post
’s website, Armstrong tweeted a link to a formal statement posted to his website
, which says:
“These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation. These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity. Although USADA alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy extended over more than 16 years, I am the only athlete it has chosen to charge. USADA’s malice, its methods, its star-chamber practices, and its decision to punish first and adjudicate later all are at odds with our ideals of fairness and fair play.
“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one. That USADA ignores this fundamental distinction and charges me instead of the admitted dopers says far more about USADA, its lack of fairness and this vendetta than it does about my guilt or innocence.”
Armstrong’s No. 1 talking point when faced with doping allegations is that he has never failed a drug test. Last year, for instance, he turned down a request to appear on “60 Minutes” when it explored the doping charges against him. To rebut the piece, Armstrong sent one tweet: “20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition. Never a failed test. I rest my case.”
From a crisis communications perspective, the move drew praise from some observers
, although many others said it pointed to his guilt.
Wednesday’s story in the Post says the USADA’s 15-page charging letter (which the Post
obtained) mentions unpublished allegations that the anti-doping agency collected blood samples from Armstrong in 2009 and 2010 that are “consistent with blood manipulation.”
Armstrong retired from cycling in 2011 and began competing in triathalons.
The USADA is a “quasi-government agency,” according to the Post
, which oversees anti-doping in the U.S. for the Olympics. It can suspend athletes and recall awards, but the agency does not have the power to bring formal charges.