AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Already an outcast in cycling after a massive doping report, Lance Armstrong absorbed hits much closer to home Wednesday: to his wallet and his heart.
Armstrong was dumped by Nike, Anheuser-Busch and other sponsors, and he gave up the top spot at Livestrong, his beloved cancer-fighting charity, a week after an anti-doping agency released evidence of drug use by the seven-time Tour de France winner.
Armstrong stepped down as chairman of Livestrong in an attempt to minimize the damage caused by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s report. USADA banned Armstrong from the sport for life and has ordered that his Tour titles be stripped, which could come before the end of the month.
‘‘This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart,’’ the cancer survivor said in a statement. ‘‘Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.’’
Minutes later, Nike dropped its personal sponsorship contract with him and issued a blistering statement that the company had been duped by his denials over the years.
‘‘Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner,’’ the company said.
In 2001, the apparel company produced an anti-doping commercial, narrated by Armstrong, addressing allegations that he had used performance-enhancing drugs by mocking the question, ‘‘What am I on?’’ and answering that he trained on his bicycle ‘‘six hours a day.’’
Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch followed Nike’s lead, saying: ‘‘We have decided not to renew our relationship with Lance Armstrong when our current contract expires at the end of 2012.’’
Soon after, other sponsors also cut ties with him. Among them were Trek bicycles and Honey Stinger, a maker of foods and gels for athletes.
‘‘We are in the process of removing Lance Armstrong’s image and endorsement from our product packaging,’’ a Honey Stinger spokesman said. An image of Armstrong’s signature that was on the site’s front page earlier in the day appeared to be gone late Wednesday.
The FRS Co., which makes energy, diet and health drinks, said Armstrong had resigned from its board.
If there was a silver lining in the day for Armstrong, it was that his major sponsors said they will continue to support the charity, which started as the Lance Armstrong Foundation 15 years ago.
Another longtime sponsor, sportswear maker Oakley, said it is withholding a decision until the International Cycling Union — the governing body for cycling — decides if it will fight USADA’s sanctions against Armstrong. UCI has until Oct. 31 to appeal USADA’s sanctions against Armstrong to the world Court of Arbitration for Sport. If not, the penalties will stand.
Armstrong, who Forbes has estimated is worth about $125 million, was not paid a salary as Livestrong chairman and will remain on the charity’s 15-member board. The duties of leading the board will be turned over to vice chairman Jeff Garvey, who was founding chairman in 1997.
Garvey will be responsible for big-picture strategic planning and will assume some of the public appearances and meetings that Armstrong used to handle.
At the entrance to the Livestrong headquarters in Austin, autographed framed yellow jerseys from each tour win are mounted on a wall near the entrance. Armstrong had a conference call with employees on Wednesday to explain his decision.
‘‘I've been better and I've been worse,’’ Livestrong President and CEO Doug Ulman quoted Armstrong as telling employees when asked how he was feeling.
Armstrong denies doping despite USADA’s report, intended to explain its decision in August to punish Armstrong. He claims to have passed hundreds of drug tests but chose not to fight USADA in one of the agency’s arbitration hearings, saying the process was biased against him.
Crisis management experts say the denials aren’t enough to mitigate damage to Livestrong. Gene Grabowski, executive vice president of Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis and issues management firm, called Armstrong’s move a good one for the foundation.
‘‘It helps take the bull's-eye off the chairman’s back,’’ Grabowski said. ‘‘It enables the charity to show it is taking the situation seriously. It probably won’t satisfy everyone, but it will satisfy a good number of people. It’s a step he had to take.’’Continued...