His country’s anti-doping agency considers him a cheater and wants him stripped of the titles that made him an international hero, but Lance Armstrong is adamant: he still considers himself a seven-time champion of the Tour de France.
The controversial cyclist addressed a cancer conference in Montreal on Wednesday — making a rare public appearance since announcing last week he will stop fighting charges brought by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
He opened his remarks by saying he thought it best to reintroduce himself given the events of recent days.
“My name is Lance Armstrong, I am a cancer survivor,” he told delegates at the World Cancer Congress.
“I’m a father of five. And yes, I won the Tour de France seven times.”
That brought a mixture of laughter and applause from an audience composed of leading cancer researchers in the world.
The USADA says it has “overwhelming” evidence against Armstrong, accusing him of using steroids and blood boosters to win the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005.
Those victories in the world’s most prestigious bicycle race followed a protracted battle with testicular cancer.
He became a role model for thousands of cancer survivors and established a charitable foundation that has raised $500 million to fight the disease.
But many are now wondering if his reputation as a champion for cancer survivors will be marred by the latest USADA allegations and his decision to stop fighting them.
The USADA is seeking to ban Armstrong from any sport that adheres to the World Anti-Doping Code. Its jurisdiction in the case is being contested, however, by the International Cycling Union.
Armstrong continues to maintain his innocence. He has called the USADA investigation an “unconstitutional witch hunt.” His supporters point out he has never tested positive for steroid use.
Aside from his opening remarks about the Tour, Armstrong largely steered clear of the doping controversy.
Instead, he focused on his experience as a cancer survivor and the work of his charitable foundation.
He noted, for instance, how the Internet has emerged as a powerful tool for cancer patients desperate for information.
Armstrong said he struggled to get enough information following his diagnosis in 1996.
“After I left the doctor’s office I was grabbing every pamphlet and flyer I could off the wall,” he said.
“You know what we did after that? We went to the bookstore — remember those things.”
Armstrong also used his speech to announce his foundation would donate an additional $500,000 to a joint initiative aimed at increasing access to cancer care around the world.
But in his concluding remarks, Armstrong paused briefly before returning to the doping scandal, if only to vow it wouldn’t affect his charitable work.
“I think the real issue here is one of distraction,” he said. “I’m going to tell this to you all as if you’re friends and partners and allies: ‘I’m not going to be distracted from this fight.“’
Later, hundreds of people joined Armstrong on a training run as a way to show support for the controversial cyclist.
A stampede of runners stormed up the Mont Royal alongside Armstrong in a fast-paced, hour-long run.