One week after the publication of the Usada report that revealed the gory details of Lance Armstrong's doping, laying to rest any remnants of his sporting credibility, the public persona of the former seven-times Tour de France winner began disintegrating. With damage limitation clearly their goal, Armstrong's long-time backer Nike dropped the Texan, and he almost simultaneously stood down as the chairman of the cancer foundation Livestrong, which he had founded just over a year after his diagnosis for testicular cancer in September 1996.
Armstrong's resignation from Livestrong came in advance of a ball on Friday in his hometown of Austin, Texas, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the foundation's inception, with thousands expected to attend, including stars such as the actor Robin Williams, a longstanding Armstrong fan. A statement from the charity stated that "to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship." Armstrong's responsibilities transferred to the vice-chairman Jeff Garvey; he will remain on the Livestrong board.
Following publication of the massive Usada report condemning Armstrong as a serial drug taker – who coerced team mates into blood doping and bullied witnesses who attempted to blow the whistle on him – Nike had stated only a week earlier that they would stand by their most prominent athlete.
This was an abrupt U-turn, citing "seemingly insurmountable evidence that [Armstrong] participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade". That brought to an end an association which had lasted since Armstrong's first Tour win in 1999, and at one time seen the US company produce the Tour de France leader's celebrated yellow jersey. The Armstrong sponsorship had spearheaded the company's move into cycling clothing on the back of his Tour successes, and he was said to earn about $7.5m (£4.6m) annually from the connection.
The sponsor added: "It is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in any manner. Nike plans to continue support of the Livestrong initiatives created to unite, inspire and empower people affected by cancer." A spokesman also confirmed Nike will change the name of the Lance Armstrong Fitness Center at its world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
This is surely that last nail in the coffin that Lance Armstrong's professional reputation has become. Even when the Tiger Woods serial infidelity saga was at its height, Nike Just Did It and stuck by their man. But the overwhelming evidence against Armstrong is a step too far for the apparel giant.
For Nike's statement to be so emphatic about the likelihood that Armstrong was a doper is significant. The company has been misled and it has moved quickly to distance itself from Lance Armstrong.
The unravelling of Lance Armstrong's reputation is sad as the story of the cancer survivor turned Tour de France winner is a genuine rags to riches one. Like almost every sporting enthusiast, we read Armstrong's autobiography It's Not About the Bike many years ago and we in awe of the bloke. He has now been unmasked as a drug cheat, a bully and more, and the man in the book is nothing more than a carefully crafted myth.
The only way back for Lance Armstrong now is to admit that the evidence that USADA has amassed is true, for him to take his licks, and for him to apologise to all those who he deceived. It worked for Woods, who still carries Nike's swoosh on his apparel and equipment. But as long as Lance Armstrong continues to pretend that the overwhelming evidence against him is a giant conspiracy, one by one the cracks in the veneer that surrounds him will expand.
UPDATE: Another sponsor, brewers Anheuser-Busch have pulled the plug on Lance Armstrong; the dam has burst...