AUSTIN, Texas -- Lance Armstrong says he will "turn the page."
In a stunning announcement late Thursday, the famed cyclist said he was giving up his fight against doping charges brought by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
RELATED | Full statement from Lance Armstrong
"I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances..." he said in a two-page statement, vowing his work would center on Livestrong, his foundation for cancer patients. "We have a lot of work to do and I'm looking forward to an end to this pointless distraction. I have a responsibility to all those who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to the cancer cause."
It might not be that easy in every aspect of his career. While Armstrong's fans have largely stood by him and his foundation has flourished, what about his fledgling career as a triathlete?
After announcing he would not go to arbitration to fight allegations that he was part of a long-running doping conspiracy, the famed cyclist will be stripped of his seven titles in the Tour de France. He also will be banned for life from competing in any sport or event sanctioned by a sporting body that is a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Agency code.
The World Triathlon Corporation is a signatory to the WADA code.
Before USADA notified Armstrong in June of the charges against him, the cyclist had a deal to compete in WTC events for $1 million - a sum that was to go to his foundation. But the pending doping charges made him ineligible to compete, leaving $750,000 of that deal up in the air.
Though that is a potential loss for the foundation, the charity has grown to the point where its mission has transcended the reputation of its founder. By giving up his fight against USADA, Armstrong says it will allow him to devote more time to his family and foundation. He made no mention of future plans to compete, though he maintained his innocence to the end, saying, "I played by the rules."
In a statement, Jeffery C. Garvey, a Livestrong board member, said it backed Armstrong and supported his decision.
"Faced with a biased process whose outcome seems predetermined, Lance chose to put his family and his foundation first and we support his decision," Garvey said.
USADA confirmed late Thursday it will move immediately to strip Armstrong of all results since Aug. 1, 1998, and ban him from competition for life.
But Armstrong said his decision did not mean he would accept USADA's sanctions. His lawyers threatened a lawsuit if USADA proceeded, arguing the agency must first resolve a dispute with the International Cycling Union (UCI) over whether the case should be pursued.
"You are on notice," Armstrong attorney Tim Herman said in a letter, "that if USADA makes any public statement claiming, without jurisdiction, to sanction Mr. Armstrong, or to falsely characterize Mr. Armstrong's reasons for not requesting an arbitration as anything other than a recognition of (International Cycling Union) jurisdiction and authority, USADA and anyone involved in the making of the statement will be liable."
Herman told USADA it could submit its case against Armstrong to UCI or the international Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland.
USADA has not reacted to the legal threat, its jurisdiction in the matter having been upheld on Monday by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, who dismissed Armstrong's suit challenging USADA's authority and rejected the cyclist's argument that the agency's arbitration process was biased. Though Sparks had misgivings about USADA's case against Armstrong, he said the arbitration rules were "sufficiently robust" and ruled the court had no reason to intervene because Armstrong could dispute the charges in arbitration.
Armstrong faced a Thursday night deadline to either go to arbitration or accept USADA's sanctions. He did neither, saying, "I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair" and that USADA has "zero physical evidence" to support its "outlandish and heinous claims."
USADA, charged by Congress as the non-government agency empowered to protect the integrity of Olympic sports, has never lost a court challenge to its jurisdiction. Had the case gone to arbitration, where USADA has prevailed in 58 of 60 cases, the agency said it had more than 10 witnesses, including past teammates of Armstrong, who would testify that for years he used blood-doping and performance-enhancing drugs to gain an edge.
"It is a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes," USADA CEO Travis Tygart said. "This is a heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture of sport, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition. But for clean athletes, it is a reassuring reminder that there is hope for future generations to compete on a level playing field without the use of performance-enhancing drugs."
Tygart previously said the evidence against Armstrong was "overwhelming."
In walking away, the 40-year-old Armstrong cited a familiar defense: he has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. "I know who won those seven Tours," Armstrong said in his statement. "The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that. Especially Travis Tygart."
The news caught many riders at the USA Pro Cycling race in Colorado off guard. Armstrong's entire RadioShack-Trek squad declined comment. The team, returning to their hotel from dinner, hurried into an elevator.
Bissell Pro Cycling team member Ben Jacques-Maynes, who has raced as a pro in the United States since 2002, called it "huge" news.
"This is bigger than Floyd (Landis), Tyler (Hamilton) and (Alberto) Contador put together," he said from the USA Pro Cycling race in Colorado. "I hope this will be the first step to realizing how poisoned this sport has been and how far we still need to come in order to move on."
Armstrong said he will "commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in underserved communities."
By declining to go to arbitration, Armstrong and his legal team sent the message that he no longer wants to participate in a fight he doesn't consider fair.
"Going forward, I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year-old on the planet," Armstrong said.