Reactions to Lance Armstrong’s decision to abandon his battle with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency varied across the world.
“I couldn’t give a damn,” said Bernard Hinault, himself a five-time Tour de France champion.
The French cycling icon, who won the Tour in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985, told a French website. “It’s his problem, not mine. This is a problem that should have been sorted out 10 or 15 years ago but which never was.”
Another five-time winner, the legendary Eddy Merckx, spoke out on Armstrong’s behalf.
“Lance Armstrong is disillusioned and is up against an unjust process,” he declared. “At a certain point there’s a disenchantment that sets in. Lance is saying to USADA, ‘Do what you want now, I don’t care.’
“Lance was always very correct during his career. What more can he do? All the tests he’s undertaken, more than 500 since 2000, have come back negative. So, either the tests don’t count for anything, or Armstrong is legit.
“The entire process (against him) is founded on witnesses. It’s deeply unjust.”
Speaking at the Vuelta a España, Oscar Pereiro — who was handed the 2006 Tour victory after winner Floyd Landis was stripped of his title for doping — described the situation as “pathetic.”
“It casts doubts in everyone’s eyes about the anti-doping system, despite the massive budget at their disposal. They shouldn’t bother,” he said at the start of stage 7 in Huesca.
“I’m convinced that the riders who spoke out against Armstrong have done so on condition that they won’t be punished and that they won’t have their winnings withdrawn. Is that right?”
The winner of the 1988 Tour, Pedro Delgado, now a commentator on Spanish television, described Armstrong as “a strong-willed character who has done a lot for cycling” but who nevertheless had many enemies.
He questioned the wisdom of returning to the issue so many years later, saying it made “no sense.”
“You talk about cheating but rather than trying to get justice, I think it’s more about a power struggle between institutions. You can’t now take away podium wins from a rider who’s given his all,” he added.
“It’s bad news for cycling and we know that the victims are always cyclists.”
The technical director of the Vuelta a España, Abraham Olano, said that as a former cyclist he found it “normal and right” that Armstrong had chosen not to defend himself.
“The only thing that he could do was to plead his innocence and he hasn’t been able to do that. The damage is done for him. There are tests to follow and if he didn’t give a positive test at the time, then there’s nothing else to add,” he said.
Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong’s longtime directeur sportif — who has chosen to face his own arbitration hearing on similar charges — wrote on his website that he was “disappointed for Lance and for cycling in general, that things have reached such a point that Lance has had enough and no longer wants to challenge the … campaign against him.”
“Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been,” he added.
As regards his own case, the Belgian added: “I hope that it will soon be determined that the case that USADA initiated against me should never have gotten as far as it has.
“Due to the sensitive nature of legal proceedings, I have been advised that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this stage.”