Nike sticks by Armstrong despite dope row

SPORTSWEAR giant Nike has refused to bow to mounting pressure to sever ties with Lance Armstrong, despite the cyclist being accused of masterminding sport’s most sophisticated doping programme ever.

The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) on Wednesday backed up its claims against the seven-time Tour de France winner by publishing more than 1,000 pages of what it called “conclusive and damning proof” of Armstrong’s doping.

But Nike yesterday reaffirmed its support of the American, 41, who denies the charges but has chosen not to contest them, and whose Livestrong brand forms a major part of the company’s range.

“We are saddened that Lance Armstrong may no longer be able to participate in certain competitions and his titles appear to be impacted,” Nike said in a reissued statement initially released when USADA first detailed its allegations in August.

“Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation he created to serve cancer survivors.”

Nike controversially stood by Tiger Woods following the golfer’s fall from grace. Armstrong’s other major sponsors include brewer AB InBev and sunglasses maker Oakley, who both stated their support for him in August.

British current Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins yesterday expressed his surprise at the volume of Armstrong evidence, which includes the testimony of 11 former team-mates.

“It’s pretty damning stuff. It is pretty jaw-dropping the amount of people who have testified against him,” said the London 2012 Olympic gold medallist.

“I am shocked at the scale of the evidence. I have been involved in pro cycling for a long time and I realise what it takes to train and win the Tour de France.

“I’m not surprised by it – I had a good idea what’s going on.”

Fellow British cyclist Alex Dowsett, however, defended Armstrong, saying: “He is still a legend of the sport. A guy who had cancer came back and won the Tour de France.”

Dowsett, who rode for the Armstrong-founded Trek-Livestrong squad before joining Team Sky last year, later backtracked, saying he no longer felt able to shake his former mentor’s hand.