Lance Armstrong Exposed: The True Story Of His Gilded Life

athletes | 6/8/18

After winning a triathlon at the age of 13 and years later winning seven consecutive Tour de France races, Lance Armstrong truly was #1, but it all got taken away from him after years of lying, cheating, and bullying came to the surface. Throughout his incredible career, no one would have suspected that Armstrong would end up banned from sports and struggling to pay back millions. His mentality about the 1992 Olympic road race explains it all.

Lance Armstrong’s Fatherless Upbringing

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Lance Edward Gunderson was born on September 18, 1971, in Plano, Texas to Linda Gayle, a teenaged mother, and Eddie Gunderson, who would leave them when he was age two. After his parent’s divorce in 1973, his mother remarried to a man from whom he took his last name “Armstrong,” after being adopted by his step-father. Armstrong would never see his biological father ever again, referring to him later in life as his “DNA donor.” Armstrong would never get close to his step-father either since the abusive relationship with his mother would end in yet another divorce. Armstrong’s upbringing led him to find solace in extracurricular activities.

Armstrong Was A Sports Progidy Since Adolescence

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At the age of 12, Armstrong began competitive swimming at the City of Plano Swim Club and finished fourth in the Texas state 1,500-meter freestyle. He then saw a poster for the Iron Kids Triathlon, which he went on to win at the age of 13. The Iron Kids Triathlon included three stages for swimming, biking, and running, in that order. The triathlon inspired Armstrong to pursue other sports outside of swimming, finding a particular interest in cycling. It wouldn’t be long before Armstrong was on track to becoming a teenaged triathlete champion and he would begin training professionally.

Armstrong Was Invited To Train At The Olympics

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At age 16, Armstrong competed in the 1987-1988 Tri-Fed/Texas and ranked first in his group of triathletes aged 19 and under. His total points from that race as an amateur were reportedly better than the five professionals who ranked higher than him for that year. The following years, Armstrong was a national sprint-course triathlon champion at ages 18 and 19. As a high school senior Armstrong was invited to train with the U.S. Olympic development team in Colorado, causing him to have to take private classes and in order to earn his high school diploma at a later date. What he said about a future Olympic race explains his thirst for winning.

Successful Right Out Of High School

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Following his departure from high school, Armstrong qualified for the 1990 junior world team and went on to place 11th in the World Championship Road Race with the best time of an American competitor since 1976. That year, he became the U.S. national amateur champion and went on to win the First Union Grand Prix and the Thrift Drug Classic, beating out many professional veteran cyclists to do so. Armstrong’s achievements in 1990 set a precedent for his career over the next two decades, in which he would experience some incredible high points that unfortunately would be overshadowed by some powerful low points.

Armstrong Takes On Big League Cycling

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Lance Armstrong competed in his first Tour DuPont in 1991. The Tour DuPont is a 12-stage race that spans 11 days and covers over 1,000 miles in the Eastern United States. Despite finishing in the middle of the pack, Armstrong was seen as a promising newcomer in the realm of international cycling which is why it wasn’t long before he was getting offers from professional cycling teams. That year, Armstrong was also the first American to win the Settimana Bergamasca in Italy. Armstrong’s next feat would be at the 1992 Olympics, where he was one of three Americans competing in a road race in Barcelona.

Lance Armstrong Was Always In It To Win It

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While still a newcomer to the sport, Armstrong had already proven himself as a champion, proving time and time again that he was in it to win it. Regarding preparation for the 1992 Olympic race, in which competitors had one day to race through 150 kilometers of the Barcelona streets, Armstrong told Rolling Stone, “[t]he thing about the Olympic road race is that you’ve got to be prepared perfectly on one day for one goal. There’s no second chances to win. If you’re the first American but tenth overall, who gives a [expletive]? You didn’t win anything.” Hot on the heels of success, Armstrong didn’t expect this upcoming setback in life.

He Knew He Was Incredibly Young For Where He Was

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Although Armstrong placed second during the U.S. Olympic time trials, he came in 14th during the actual Men’s cycling individual road race at the 1992 Summer Olympics. But Armstrong quickly moved past the loss, telling Cycling News in 2013 about his first experiences professionally racing in Europe: “I’d already gotten a sense of what pro riding was like [in 1992]… From the lows of San Sebastian to the experience of racing the Worlds that year in Benidorm… For a young guy, that was eye-opening for sure. But I wasn’t overwhelmed… I felt I was in the game for such a young guy.”

Lance Armstrong Signed With The Motorola Cycling Team

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After the Olympics stint, Armstrong was offered his first professional cycling gig with the Motorola Cycling Team in 1992 for a hefty salary. His first official professional event with the team was the San Sebastian Classic in Spain, but unfortunately, he came in last. In true Lance Armstrong fashion, though, he would redeem himself only two weeks later by placing second in a World Cup race in Zurich, Switzerland. At the age of 21, Armstrong would go on to have one of the most impressive first years as a professional cyclist in the history of the sport.

Lance Armstrong Gets His Triple Crown

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1993 would be the year that Armstrong really showcased his dominance for the first time by winning the Thrift Drug Classic, the Kmart West Virginia Classic, and the CoreStates Race, which is collectively known in the cycling industry as the “Triple Crown” win. This time, Armstrong also came in second at that year’s Tour DuPont. Among Armstrong’s impressive feats that year, it would also be his first time competing in the most prestigious cycling event in the world: the Tour de France. His first Tour de France win would occur during the eighth stage of that race, but he eventually dropped out after falling to 62nd place. Soon, it would all come crashing down with this devastating life discovery.

Armstrong Came Back To Win After Crashing Twice

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The most profound moment of Lance Armstrong’s career in 1993 would be winning the World Road Race Championship in Oslo, Norway. In one day, competitors in the World Road Race had to race through over 160 miles of slick terrain—that year it was heavily raining. Although Armstrong would end up crashing twice, his ultimate win made him the second American to ever win that race. Armstrong was also the youngest winner in the history of the World Road Race Championship at the age of 21. From that point on, Armstrong was on the fast track to a successful career.

He Pushed Himself To Win For His Fallen Friend


The years of 1994 and 1995 were no different. Within that time, he surpassed his beginning achievements by winning the Clásica de San Sebastián and the Tour DuPont. At the 1995 Tour de France, Italian cyclist Fabio Casartelli, who was Armstrong’s teammate, had died following a crash on the 15th stage. That encouraged Armstrong to give his all to win that year’s Tour de France and upon doing so, he pointed his fingers up towards the ski to honor Casartelli. By 1996, Armstrong signed a $2 million deal with the Cofidis Cycling Team from France, joining Frankie Andreu and Laurent Madouas as teammates.

The Diagnosis That Stopped Armstrong Dead In His Tracks

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With Lance Armstrong’s skyrocketing success in his cycling career, it wouldn’t be long before he encountered one of the first major roadblocks in his life. In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs, and lymph nodes. Armstrong could hardly be deterred, telling The New York Times that he intended to overcome the disease and adding, “I’m 25 years old, I’m one of the best in my sport — why would I have cancer? I have had lots of tests all through my career, physical tests, blood tests, and they never picked this up.” Surprisingly, Armstrong wouldn’t let his cancer stop him and worried everyone with this declaration.

Armstrong Was Ignoring The Symptoms

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Oddly enough, Armstrong had been feeling the symptoms of cancer for months but continually wrote it off as pain he felt from cycling, which caused him to go undiagnosed and his cancer to worsen. Armstrong told NIH Medline Plus that he was completely shocked upon his diagnosis saying, “Here I was, young and healthy and riding better than ever and, suddenly, I have cancer. I was worried about losing my career and, frankly, my life. I didn’t know how to tell my mom, and I was scared and angry.” It was only the beginning of Lance Armstrong’s legendary battle with cancer.

Cancer Couldn’t Keep Him From His Livelihood

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Armstrong underwent surgery to remove one testicle that had been inundated with deadly cancer. After beginning aggressive chemotherapy, he was given a 65 to 85 percent chance of living. Armstrong told The New York Times, “I had four hours of chemotherapy yesterday and if I didn’t know the diagnosis, I’d feel normal… I’m entering this battle in the best shape of my life. I’m going to be back on my bike soon, maybe not six hours a day, maybe not as hard as before… I just want to be on my bike, outside, with my friends.”

The Cancer Spread To His Brain And His Survival Rate Diminished

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After having his first surgery, doctors found that the cancer had spread to his brain. Armstrong’s chances of survival had dropped from 50 to 40 percent. He then had to undergo another surgery to remove two lesions that had manifested in his brain. Thankfully, the surgery was a success. Armstrong said in a statement, “I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming show of support through cards, letters, and E-mail messages. These messages provided me with a daily dose of positive thoughts.” Armstrong continued his rigorous chemotherapy treatments while also reportedly changing his diet. At first on the brink of death, he was well on his way to recovery. You won’t believe what Armstrong did when he was recovering!

Armstrong’s Survival Inspired Many Cancer Survivors

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Armstong’s final chemotherapy treatment was in December of 1996 and two months later, he was declared cancer-free. Because of the continued support he received and interactions he had with fellow cancer patients throughout his experience, he was inspired to start the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997 with a mission “to improve the lives of cancer survivors and those affected by cancer.” The Lance Armstrong Foundation, which would eventually come to be known as the Livestrong Foundation, become one of the biggest supporters of cancer patients. Through various charitable events and partnerships the foundation raised millions of dollars for their cause.

Armstrong Became The Spokesperson For Cancer Survival

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At Livestrong’s beginnings, Lance Armstrong was the perfect person to promote cancer awareness. Cheating death by overcoming stage three cancer was a phenomenal feat and Armstrong’s story provided hope for many other cancer patients. Armstrong’s agent at the time, Bill Stapleton, told reporters in 1997 that “Lance isn’t just a cyclist anymore. Because of the cancer, the Lance Armstrong brand has a much broader appeal. Our challenge is to leverage that now. He’s on the verge of being a crossover-type spokesman.” Just as quickly as Armstrong defeated his cancer, he was back on track to winning more Tour de France titles.

Nobody Had Faith In Him After His Recovery

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Armstrong had maintained to the public his intent to return to competitive cycling despite his near-fatal experience with cancer. Not very many people believed he would be able to do it, which is why Cofidis canceled his $2 million contract. However, Armstrong was quick to bounce back as a free agent. Although many were reluctant to sponsor him, the United States Postal Service team had faith in Armstrong, signing him to a position that earned him $200,000 per year. Soon, Armstrong was back on the pedals and training at full force to regain his strength. He was ready to prove to the world that cancer couldn’t defeat Lance Armstrong. But could Lance Armstrong defeat others in future races?

The One Time That Armstrong Wanted To Quit


In 1998 he decided to return to cycling by competing in the Vuelta a España and the Ruta del Sol, in which he finished fourth and fourteenth, respectively. It was enough to make Armstrong want to call it quits already. Chris Carmichael, who had been coaching Armstrong when he was a teen, told The New Yorker, “He had never done better, even before cancer, and all indications were that he was on the verge of the greatest comeback in sports and he said, ‘Hey, I’m quitting.’ My coaching side just wanted to scream… We said, ‘You will look back on this and be disappointed—you are going out as a quitter.'”

Not The “New Greg LeMond,” The “First Lance Armstrong”

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It was enough to encourage Armstrong to persevere—after all, he couldn’t insist he’d return to cycling after beating cancer and then decide to quit all of a sudden. After more training, Armstrong was leading the pack in the 1999 Tour de France, which he ended up winning for the first time. “It’s just incredible. I am very emotional… It’s a great honour, both for American cycling and for the cancer community,” Armstrong said according to BBC News. Armstrong became the second American to with the Tour de France behind Greg LeMond, to whom Armstrong was compared so much that he was often referred to as the “New Greg LeMond.”

Seven Consecutive Tour De France Wins For Lance Armstrong

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After his first Tour de France win, Lance Armstrong was well on his way to building his legacy. The cyclist would go on to win the six more consecutive Tour de France races from 2000 to 2005. Armstrong’s biggest competitor in the 2000 race was German cyclist Jan Ullrich, who prior to Armstrong’s first win, was expected to be the winner. Armstrong finished six minutes and two seconds ahead of Ullrich, spawning a years-long rivalry between the two cyclists. It was an amazing feat for Armstrong, who at one point ran out of fuel during the race and told The New Yorker, “I bonked… That was the hardest day of my life on a bike.” Armstrong’s cycling prowess wouldn’t last, he would come to find out.

Armstrong’s First Retirement From Cycling


After his seventh consecutive Tour de France win in July 2005, Armstrong announced his retirement from cycling. Throughout his phenomenal comeback from testicular cancer, Armstrong set the record for total and consecutive wins in addition to winning 22 individual stages and 11 individual time trials at the Tour de France. At this point in his career, Armstrong was making about $28 million per year in income not only from cycling with the U.S. Postal Service, but mostly from endorsement deals with Nike, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Trek Bicycles, according to Vanity Fair’s 2008 expose on the cyclist.

Armstrong Wanted An Eighth Tour De France Title

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However, it wouldn’t be long before Armstrong decided that he wanted to get back on the road. By 2008, Armstrong announced his plans to return from retirement and began training for the 2009 Tour de France. In a statement to the Associated Press, Armstrong said, “I am happy to announce that after talking with my children, my family and my closest friends, I have decided to return to professional cycling in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden. It’s now time to address cancer on a global level.” At the time, Armstrong also told Vanity Fair, “I’m going to try and win an eighth Tour de France.”

Unfortunately, He Couldn’t Perform As Well As He Used To

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Coming off his retirement, VeloNews reported that Armstrong joined the Astana team, which was lead by his close friend Johan Bruyneel. It turned out that Armstrong was not the cyclist he was in 2005, as he placed 3rd in the race, although Spanish teammate Alberto Contador won the entire race. Armstrong, at least, was aware of his own capabilities at that point, reportedly telling BBC News at the time, “I wanted to be one of the strongest in the race. I think that I am but I may not be the strongest to win. I think someone on this team will win.” In addition to losing, Armstrong would soon find himself embroiled in scandal.

People Accuse Lance Armstrong Of Doping To Win The Races


Throughout his entire cycling career, Lance Armstrong often had to face the scrutiny of skeptics who allege that he could not have succeeded without the use of performance-enhancing drugs (POD). The first people to speak up with these allegations were sports journalist Paul Kimmage and former-cyclist-turned-journalist Christophe Bassons. It was no secret that doping was rampant among the cycling community, but Armstrong repeatedly denied his own usage. He subsequently got himself into public squabbles with Kimmage and Bassons. It was Bassons in particular who pointedly referred to Armstrong as a “cancer in cycling.” Not only was Armstrong accused of using PODs, he allegedly bullied other cyclists into taking them and threatened them into silence.

“The Troll” Who Called Out Lance Armstrong


Perhaps the biggest Armstrong detractor was journalist David Walsh, who set out to expose the cycling community and Armstrong in particular. Armstrong made the journalist his nemesis, reportedly dubbing the writer “the troll,” according to Sky Sports. Walsh wrote a report for The Sunday Times in 2001 alleging that Armstrong had ties to Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who in 2004 was sentenced for sporting fraud and abusing his power as a physician to provide PODs to numerous cyclists throughout the 1990s. In 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) issued Ferrari a lifetime ban from professional sports.

People Point Fingers At Armstrong For Cheating

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In 2003, Walsh published L.A. Confidentiel with the help of Armstrong’s former masseuse Emma O’Reilly, whose testimony alleged that Armstrong had her dispose of used syringes and pick up strange parcels for the team. O’Reilly’s testimony also alleged that team officials got a doctor to write a fake prescription for Armstrong, who was supposedly suffering from saddle sores after a urine sample tested positive for corticosteroid (the cream that Armstrong used for saddle sores contained the illegal steroid hormone). Despite the accusations, Armstrong continued to maintain his innocence, but the situation would only continue to get worse. Armstrong would continue to deny everything, even when there was evidence against him.

The Evidence That Incriminated Lance Armstrong

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In 2005, the French sports paper L’Équipe published a report titled “The Armstrong Lie,” in which they accused Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs for the 1999 Tour de France — his first win of the race. L’Équipe claimed that a Paris laboratory had frozen urine samples taken from Armstrong during the prologue and five different stages at the 1999 race and they were used in a research project about POD testing methods. Armstrong’s frozen samples allegedly tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO), an illegal POD, which gave the French publication the will to claim that Armstrong was a liar.

Lance Armstrong Referred To The Claims As A “Witch Hunt”


Armstrong was quick to fight back against the claim. Armstrong wrote on his website, “Yet again, a European newspaper has reported that I have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs… The paper even admits in its own article that the science in question here is faulty and that I have no way to defend myself. They state: ‘There will therefore be no counter-exam nor regulatory prosecutions, in a strict sense, since defendant’s rights cannot be respected.’ I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance enhancing drugs.” Armstrong’s vehement denial welcomed an interesting challenge from the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD).

Armstrong Refused To Comply With Anyone Who Was Against Him

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Three years later in 2008, the AFLD gave Armstrong the chance to “prove his good faith” by having the samples in question retested, but Armstrong denied. Instead, he lashed out and said in a statement, “That research was the subject of an independent investigation, and the conclusions of the investigation were that the 1998 and 1999 Tour de France samples have not been maintained properly, have been compromised in many ways and even three years ago could not be tested to provide any meaningful results… There is simply nothing that I can agree to that would provide any relevant evidence about 1999.” In the middle of all this, no one expected Lance Armstrong to make this move.

Armstrong’s Continued Denial Only Made Him More Suspect


However, Armstrong’s continued denial and refusal to retest only made him more suspect in the eyes of many. Pierre Bordry, who at the time was the head of the AFLD, told BBC Sport, “If the analysis is clean it would have been very good for him. But he doesn’t want to do it and that’s his problem… It was a good opportunity for him to answer positively to my proposition, because if he is clean, as he says, I am ready to follow him.” The Union Cycliste Internationale appointed Emile Vrijman, the former head of the Dutch anti-doping agency who became an athletic attorney in anti-doping cases, to investigate the handling of the urine samples.

Everyone Just Wanted Armstrong To Cooperate


According to the Associated Press, Vrijman’s report stated that “tests on urine samples were conducted improperly and fell so short of scientific standards that it was ‘completely irresponsible’ to suggest they ‘constitute evidence of anything.'” The report essentially exonerated Armstrong of the claims against him, however, it wasn’t enough. While the report placed the blame of anti-doping authorities for mishandling the evidence, Dick Pound, who was the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), stated that Vrijman’s report “bordered on farcical” and that it lacked professionalism. The legal battles and accusations only got worse from there.

A Former Teammate Even Said That Armstrong Was Guilty


In 2010 Floyd Landis, who joined the United States Postal Service team in 2002 and rode alongside Armstrong, admitted to his use of PODs throughout most of his career after four years of denial. Along with his admission, Landis alleged that other high-profile members of the team—including Armstrong—had also used PODs. Although he had no proof, Landis also claimed that team director Johan Bruyneel, the president of the Union Cycliste Internationale, wanted him to keep quiet about a urine test of Armstrong’s that came back positive for PODs one year. Despite Armstrong’s denial, it wasn’t long before officials launched a full investigation into his own drug use, leading Armstrong to make a shocking revelation on national television.

Armstrong Struggles To Get The Eighth Win Amid The Accusations

According to The New York Times, Armstrong said at the time, “He has no proof. It’s just our word against theirs, and we like our word. We like where we stand.” At the time that this was happening, Armstrong was preparing for the 2010 Tour de France, in an attempt to get an eighth win, but ended up placing 23rd in that year’s race. It wasn’t until after that that he would announce his official retirement from cycling in 2011. “I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s been an excellent ride. I really thought I was going to win another Tour,” Armstrong told the Associated Press that year.

Armstrong Had No Choice But To Shift His Focus

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The investigation of the U.S. Postal Service Team’s doping continued. Amid his retirement announcement, Armstrong said of the case, “I can’t control what goes on in regards to the investigation. That’s why I hire people to help me with that. I try not to let it bother me and just keep rolling right along. I know what I know. I know what I do and I know what I did. That’s not going to change.” The cyclist shifted his focus to the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which would eventually change its official name to the Livestrong Foundation.

Lance Armstrong Confesses To Oprah Winfrey

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By 2013, it would all come to an end when Lance Armstrong sat down with Oprah Winfrey for an interview where he finally admitted the truth: he had used PODs throughout his career and it helped him achieve his seven consecutive Tour de France wins. Winfrey grilled Armstrong about his drug use throughout his career, asking about all the accusations against him which he previously denied, to which he stoically admitted the admissions were true. The startling confession and Armstrong’s apparent lack of emotion throughout the interview shocked the world and only opened up a plethora of more questions.

Armstrong Had No Good Reason For What He Did


When Oprah asked Lance Armstrong why he had been lying all those years, he said, “I don’t know I have a great answer… This is too late, probably for most people, and that’s my fault. I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. This story is so bad… so toxic. It’s not as if I said no and moved off it. While I’ve lived through this process, I know the truth. The truth isn’t what I said and now it’s gone… I’m here to acknowledge my mistakes. I will spend the rest of my life trying to win back trust and apologizing to people.”

His Children Made Him Realize He Couldn’t Keep Lying

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Armstrong’s confession came after USASA launched a full investigation and found that Armstrong was the “ringmaster of the ‘most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.'” Armstrong admitted to the use of EPOs, human growth hormones, and blood doping, telling Oprah that his confession came after realizing the effect that the allegations were having on his family—particulary his children. After hearing that his children were defending him, Armstrong knew he had to come clean to them. In particular, he told his oldest son Luke, “Don’t defend me anymore… just say, ‘Hey, my dad said he’s sorry.'”

Lance Armstrong Is Banned From Sports For Life

As a result of his confession, Armstrong was issued a lifetime ban from all sports that follow the World Anti-Doping Code. He was also stripped of all achievements from 1998 and on—including his seven consecutive Tour de France wins—and had to return his Olympic medals. Armstrong also begrudgingly stepped down as the head of Livestrong, after being pressured to do so by the foundation. Now, Armstrong is in a lawsuit to avoid having to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars to sponsors such as Nike, RadioShack, Oakley, and Trek, who Armstrong says would not have made their $1 billion in revenue if it weren’t for him.

Armstrong Stays Quiet As He Tries To Rebuild His Life

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After having to pay millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees, it’s a wonder how Lance Armstrong makes a living if he can’t even participate in any sports anymore. Armstrong makes money off of two bicycle shops that he owns, called Mellow Johnny’s. Occasionally he will be invited to speaking engagements and he will also do some work for Livestrong, making personal video messages to cancer survivors all across the nation. With homes in Texas and Colorado, much of Armstrong’s time is spent with his family. He has a son, Luke, and twin daughters, Grace and Isabelle, from his first wife Kristin Richard. He also shares a son and daughter, Max and Olivia, with his fiancée Anna Hastings.