MADRID – Lance Armstrong received plenty of support from fellow riders Friday.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life after the American decided not to fight charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career.
One former rival, Filippo Simeoni, questioned why Armstrong didn't continue to contest the charges.
"It leaves me a bit perplexed, because someone like him, with all the fame and popularity and millions of dollars he has, should fight to the end if he's innocent," Simeoni told The Associated Press from his home in Sezze, Italy, during a lunch break from operating his coffee bar. "But I guess he realized it was a useless fight and the evidence USADA had was too great."
Simeoni welcomed the changes in cycling that have led to stricter doping rules since Armstrong won his seven titles from 1999-2005, but said more should have been done a long time ago.
"That entire decade was one big bluff," Simeoni said.
At the Spanish Vuelta, riders including former rival and teammate Alberto Contador joined ex-Armstrong coach Johan Bruyneel in offering support.
"I think he was a cyclist who always showed such strength, great intelligence and spectacular physical conditioning," said Contador, who edged Armstrong for his second Tour title in the first year of his comeback in 2009 and has battled his own doping charges. "We should wait and see what happens at the close before passing judgment."
Bruyneel called Armstrong a victim of an "unjust" legal case.
"I'm disappointed for Lance and for cycling in general that things have reached a stage where Lance feels that he has had enough and is no longer willing to participate in USADA's campaign against him," Bruyneel wrote on his personal website. "Lance has never withdrawn from a fair fight in his life, so his decision today underlines what an unjust process this has been."
The International Cycling Union said it was still awaiting USADA's explanation before deciding whether it would take any action against Armstrong. The organizers of the Tour de France said they would wait to see what both USADA and the UCI did before commenting.
"It's bad news for cycling. Again, it's back to the famous problem of the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. If Armstrong cheated, it's normal he should be sanctioned," two-time Tour champion Bernard Thevenet told French radio. "It's a very strong message to send cyclists and those around them who think about cheating."
If Armstrong is officially stripped of his titles, Jan Ullrich could be promoted to champion in three of those years. Ullrich was stripped of his third-place finish in the 2005 Tour and retired from racing two years later after being implicated in another doping scandal.
"If that actually becomes the case, I'll comment on that then," Ullrich said. "Until then, it's speculation."
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Ponza, Italy, contributed to this report.
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