LOS ANGELES - Lance Armstrong, increasingly isolated in the face of a devastating doping report, is now hoping Livestrong, the cancer charity he founded, will weather the scandal.
The US Anti-Doping Agency dossier painting Armstrong as a central figure in a massive doping scheme that helped him garner seven Tour de France titles finally sent corporate sponsors -- including key backers Nike, Anheuser-Busch and Trek -- scurrying and prompted Armstrong himself to step down as chairman of Livestrong.
But even as the shock waves reverberated through the world of cycling, Livestrong vice president of communications Katherine McLane said those at the foundation were trying to carry on.
"Lance's direction was 'Stay focused on your work. Do not be distracted.' And that's exactly what we've done," McLane told AFP on Thursday.
It's perhaps not surprising then that Armstrong's first public appearance since USADA's latest report will be at a Livestrong event in his hometown of Austin on Friday -- a gala fundraiser marking the 15th anniversary of the organization.
Sean Penn, Ben Stiller and Robin Williams were among the celebrities slated to attend.
Organizers will release a video recording afterwards on YouTube, but he'll face no tough questions from the press.
David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California and executive director of USC's Sports Business Institute, said any Armstrong journey to reclaim public respectability must include a confession.
"The only way they come back is when they take personal responsibility and accountability for what they've done," Carter said. "He has not taken responsibility."
For years, Armstrong has denied doping allegations. Despite sworn testimony from dozens of witnesses, including former teammates, in the USADA report, McLane said that many continue to view Armstrong not as a drug cheat but as a cancer survivor who used his experience to reach out to others.
"That doesn't go away," she said. "People here at the foundation, and I think within the cancer community, know Lance in a very different way than a larger public person, as a cyclist."
Still, the repercussions were being felt in the sport.
Hein Verbruggen, the Dutch veteran who was president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) when Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times between 1999 and 2005, also moved to distance himself from the American.
Verbruggen scoffed at allegations that he took a bribe to cover up a positive Armstrong test result in 1999.
But he said a report in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf "unjustly states that despite USADA's dossier I still insist there is no proof."
Verbruggen's statement emerged as Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the USADA report and more than 1,000 pages of supplementary testimony had opened a "Pandora's box" of shady dealings.
Italian investigators are probing a doctor said to have overseen Armstrong's use of banned substances, Michele Ferrari, who is said to have offered an "all inclusive package" to top athletes on how to cheat the dope testers.
Dozens of athletes were reportedly implicated in the so-called "Ferrari system" and sometimes entire cycling teams, with the network involving money laundering, tax evasion and secret Swiss bank accounts.
The Italian probe could yet cause fresh controversy for the embattled sport.
Current UCI chief Pat McQuaid, whose organization is reviewing the report prior to issuing its own decision on whether it accepts the findings and supports USADA's life ban of Armstrong, insists cycling has moved on from its murky past.
But USADA chief executive Travis Tygart told velonews.com that he believes former Armstrong teammate Levi Leipheimer was punished by his Belgian team for coming forward about his own doping and contributing to the USADA report.
The American was sacked by Omega Pharma-Quick Step on Tuesday.
"At the end of the day, the last thing the sport needs is an attempt to silence those who had the courage to come forward, because that's the only thing that's going to allow the sport to move forward," Tygart told velonews.com
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