Floyd Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title and can receive a two-year ban after losing his appeal of a positive doping test on a 2-1 decision by US arbitrators announced on Thursday.
US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) officials and Landis' attorneys gave evidence to the three-man arbitration panel over nine days in May, the US cycling star maintaining his innocence despite testing positive for synthetic testosterone.
"I am innocent and we proved I am innocent," Landis said in a statement.
Landis now has only one possible path to regain his crown from the 103rd Tour and avoid a suspension through the end of January of 2009 - appealing the verdict to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Pearl Piatt, a spokeswoman for Landis, said there has been no decision by the US cyclist on whether or not to press his case before CAS, which has jurisdiction to render a final verdict.
"We're still digesting the report," she said. "They are still reading the opinion closely and looking at it."
At one stage, Landis had said the cost of making such a fight might be more than he could afford, with the US arbitration appeal reportedly costing more than two million dollars.
But Landis might not be able to afford not clearing his name given his new status as the first Tour champion stripped of his title for doping.
"This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere," Landis said.
"For the panel to find in favor of USADA when, with respect to so many issues, USADA did not manage to prove even the most basic parts of their case shows that this system is fundamentally flawed.
USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart said the ruling "was a victory for all clean athletes and everyone who values fair and honest competition,"
"This case is really just another sad example of the crisis of character which plagues some of today's athletes and undermines the honest achievements of all of those athletes who compete with integrity," Tygart said.
"Hopefully, some of the good that comes from this type of case is that other athletes who might be tempted to cheat will recognize that there is no honor in doping to win."
The International Cycling Union, the sport's global governing body, declared Oscar Pereiro the 2006 Tour de France champion. The Spaniard finished second, 57 seconds behind Landis.
"We can right now say that Pereiro is the winner of the Tour without waiting for a possible appeal by Landis to the Court of Arbitration for Sport," UCI president Pat McQuaid declared.
Landis appeared to have fallen out of contention after struggling to the finish of stage 16 in the 2006 Tour, but he rallied to win stage 17 with a stunning effort, pulling back almost eight minutes on his way to an eventual triumph that was tainted by the doping positive and undone by the lost appeal.
Landis was not expected to make public comments on the matter before Monday, Piatt saying that "if it happens it would be next week."
Arbitrators Patrice Brunet and Richard McLaren ruled against Landis while Christopher Campbell dissented.
The verdict comes almost four months after the longest anti-doping hearing in US history, a rare public session in which Landis' lawyers questioned the chain of command from the French laboratory that handles Landis' testing.
"Despite the intense pressure applied by Mr. Landis and his high-priced legal and public relations team, we knew that doing what was right required staying the course and fulfilling our duty to clean athletes," Tygart said.
The Landis camp contended that accuracy and reliability of test procedures of the French AFLD lab and the competency of its findings were suspect, saying their loss showed athletes cannot win through the appeal system.
Arbitrators found violations of WADA rules in test procedures at the Chatenay-Malabry lab but two of them decided a carbon-isotope analysis showed there was a doping violation despite flaws in the test process.
"This is a miscarriage of justice." said Landis lawyer Maurice Suh.
"The majority panel's decision is a disappointment, but particularly so because it failed to address the joint impact of the many errors that the AFLD laboratory committed in rendering this false positive.
"To take each of these errors singly is to ignore the total falsity of the result. The majority panel has disregarded the testimony of Mr. Landis' experts."
World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound said his group would analyze the findings but had no further comment because Landis could appeal to CAS.