COLORADO SPRINGS  - Iconic US cyclist Lance Armstrong was officially branded a drugs cheat Friday by the US Anti-Doping Agency as it stripped him of his record seven Tour de France titles. Armstrong was also banned from cycling for life by the agency, which said his decision not to pursue arbitration in an effort to clear himself of doping charges leveled in June triggered the action.

“USADA announced today that Lance Armstrong has chosen not to move forward with the independent arbitration process and as a result has received a lifetime period of ineligibility and disqualification of all competitive results from August 1, 1998 through the present,” USADA said in a statement.

Armstrong, a cancer survivor revered by millions for his efforts in raising cancer awareness and supporting those stricken by the disease, won cycling’s most prestigious race from 1999-2005. He has long denied doping accusations but said Thursday night that he wouldn’t pursue an arbitration process he believes is “unfair”. “Finished with this nonsense,” Armstrong said.

“As is every athlete’s right, if Mr Armstrong would have contested the USADA charges, all of the evidence would have been presented in an open legal proceeding for him to challenge,” USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said in a statement. “He chose not to do this knowing these sanctions would immediately be put into place.”

USADA cited “aggravating circumstances” under the World Anti-Doping Code in issue a lifetime ban. Such circumstances include involvement in multiple anti-doping rule violations and participation in a sophisticated doping scheme and conspiracy as well as trafficking, administration and/or attempted administration of a prohibited substance or method.

USADA laid out five anti-doping rule violations for which Armstrong is being sanctioned, beginning with “use and/or attempted use of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents”.

Armstrong is also charged with possession of prohibited substances, including the drugs and doping equipment, trafficking in EPO, testosterone, and corticosteroids, administering or attempting to administer banned drugs to others and “assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations and/or attempted anti-doping rule violations.”

Armstrong had attempted to block USADA’s proceedings against him with a lawsuit, but it was dismissed on Monday. That gave him until Thursday to respond to USADA’s charges. “However, when given the opportunity to challenge the evidence against him, and with full knowledge of the consequences, Mr. Armstrong chose not to contest the fact that he engaged in doping violations from at least August 1, 1998 and participated in a conspiracy to cover up his actions,” Tygart said. “As a result of Mr. Armstrong’s decision, USADA is required under the applicable rules, including the World Anti-Doping Code under which he is accountable, to disqualify his competitive results and suspend him from all future competition.”

In battling doping accusations Armstrong has always pointed to the fact that he has never failed a doping test. Tygart said USADA built its case against him from disclosures from “more than a dozen” witnesses who had first-hand experience of a doping conspiracy on the part of Armstrong’s US Postal Service teams.

“As part of the investigation Mr Armstrong was invited to meet with USADA and be truthful about his time on the USPS team but he refused,” Tygart said. USADA said witnesses provided evidence based on their direct observation of doping by Armstrong, or through Armstrong’s admissions to them that he used an array of performance-enhancing drugs including the blood booster EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and human growth hormone at various times during his career.