Armstrong Steps Down from Charity; Nike Severs Ties
AUSTIN, TX -- For years, Lance Armstrong carried a growing burden of doping accusations up increasingly steep hills, accumulating fans, wealth and respect along the way.

On Wednesday, he crashed.

In one day, the renowned cyclist and cancer survivor lost a major endorsement deal with Nike -- once worth millions of dollars -- and the chairmanship of the cancer charity he founded 15 years ago.

While stepping down as chairman of Livestrong was Armstrong's idea, losing Nike's support wasn't.

Nike, which initially stood by Armstrong, dropped him Wednesday with a terse statement citing what it called "seemingly insurmountable evidence" that he participated in doping.

Hours later, brewery giant Anheuser-Busch followed suit, saying it will let Armstrong's contract expire at the end of the year. Nike and Anheuser-Busch said they still plan to support Livestrong and its initiatives.

The American Cancer Society, which has had a long relationship with Armstrong, said only that it would continue to collaborate with Livestrong.

Armstrong walked away as chairman of the Livestrong cancer charity "to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career," according to a statement posted to the group's website.

He will remain on the charity's board of directors, but he will turn over the reins to founding chairman Jeff Garvey.

The move comes a week after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency detailed what it called "overwhelming" evidence of Armstrong's involvement as a professional cyclist in "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program."

The seven-time Tour de France winner has consistently denied the claims, and legions of fans and corporate supporters had backed him -- until now.

Armstrong founded the Livestrong charity in 1997 after his own successful treatment for testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs. He came back from the disease seemingly stronger than ever, winning the first of his seven Tour de France titles less than three years after he was diagnosed in 1996.

His success inspired cancer patients worldwide, spreading his reach far beyond the insular world of cycling and cementing his place in celebrity culture. He became rich, dated a rock star and appeared in movies. The bright yellow "LIVESTRONG" wristbands distributed by his charity became a potent symbol for perseverance in the face of adversity.

People should look to that legacy in assessing Armstrong, Livestrong's president said.

"Lance's devotion to serving others whose lives were irrevocably changed by cancer, as his was, is unsurpassable," Doug Ulman said in a statement issued after Wednesday's announcement. "We are incredibly proud of his record as an advocate and philanthropist and are deeply grateful that Lance and his family will continue to be actively involved with the Foundation's advocacy and service work."

But a long chain of accusations has trailed Armstrong.

In 2002, a 21-month investigation into allegations that Armstrong's team used banned substances during the 2000 Tour de France closed after finding no evidence of illegal drug use.

He later sued the author of a book that accused him of having used performance-enhancing drugs and the International Cycling Union cleared him of 1999 doping allegations in a 2006 report.

In 2010, former teammate Floyd Landis accused him of doping. Federal prosecutors also looked into the allegations but closed their case in Feburary without pressing charges.