AUSTIN, Texas – For Lance Armstrong, the doping allegations aren't going away. In fact, they're starting all over again.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has filed formal charges against the seven-time Tour de France winner, threatening to strip him of his victories in the storied cycling race.
Armstrong, who forcefully denied the accusations, could face a lifetime ban from the sport if he is found to have used performance-enhancing drugs. The move by USADA immediately bans him from competing in triathlons, which he turned to after he retired from cycling last year.
Armstrong has been dogged by doping allegations since his first Tour victory in 1999, but had hoped his fight to be viewed as a clean champion was finally won after U.S. federal prosecutors closed a two-year criminal probe in February without bringing any charges. Armstrong has said the investigation took a heavy emotional toll and he was relieved when it ended.
But USADA officials insisted they would continue to pursue their own probe into Armstrong and his former teams and doctors, and notified him of the charges in a 15-page letter on Tuesday. Unlike federal prosecutors, USADA isn't burdened by proving a crime occurred, just that there was use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In its letter, USADA said its investigation included evidence dating back to 1996. It also included the new charge that Armstrong blood samples taken in 2009 and 2010 are "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions." Armstrong came out of his first retirement to race in the Tour de France those two years.
Armstrong, who was in France while training for a triathlon, issued a statement dismissing the latest allegations "baseless" and "motivated by spite." Even though he last won the Tour seven years ago, the 40-year-old Armstrong remains a popular — if polarizing — figure, partly because of his charity work for cancer patients.
USADA's letter also said the agency was bringing doping charges against Johan Bruyneel, manager of Armstrong's winning teams; team doctors Pedro Celaya and Luis Garcia del Moral; team trainer Pepe Marti, and consulting doctor Michele Ferrari.
The USADA letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, accuses Armstrong of using and promoting the use of the blood booster EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, human growth hormone and anti-inflammatory steroids. The letter doesn't cite specific examples, but says the charges are based on evidence gathered in an investigation of Armstrong's teams, including interviews with witnesses who aren't named.
Cycling's governing body, the International Cycling Union, which collected the 2009 and 2010 samples cited in the USADA letter, said it was not involved in the anti-doping group's investigation.
According to USADA's letter, more than 10 cyclists as well as team employees will testify they either saw Armstrong dope or heard him tell them he used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone from 1996 to 2005. Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005.
During their investigation, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Armstrong supporters and ex-teammates to testify in Los Angeles. One of the most serious accusations came during a "60 Minutes" interview when former teammate Tyler Hamilton said he saw Armstrong use EPO during the 1999 Tour de France and in preparation for the 2000 and 2001 tours.
Early in the criminal investigation, Armstrong attorney's accused USADA of offering cyclists a "sweetheart deal" if they testify or provide evidence against Armstrong.
In a letter to USADA last week, Armstrong attorney Robert Luskin noted that USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart participated in witness interviews with federal investigator Jeff Novitzky during the criminal probe.
"It is a vendetta, which has nothing to do with learning the truth and everything to do with settling a score and garnering publicity at Lance's expense," Luskin wrote.
In a statement, Tygart said, "USADA only initiates matters supported by the evidence. We do not choose whether or not we do our job based on outside pressures, intimidation or for any reason other than the evidence."
Armstrong has until June 29 to file a written response to the charges. The case could ultimately go before an arbitration panel to consider evidence. The USADA letter said in that case a hearing should be expected by November.
Armstrong, maintained his innocence, saying in his statement: "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. ...
"Any fair consideration of these allegations has and will continue to vindicate me."