July 13, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The coach of Lance Armstrong's teams during his seven Tour de France victories will go to arbitration to fight charges that he led a complex doping program for Armstrong and other riders.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency confirmed Friday that Johan Bruyneel elected to go contest his case before a panel of three arbitrators rather than accept sanctions that likely would have included a lifetime ban from sports. Bruyneel, who has said he is innocent, faced a Saturday deadline to decide.

USADA officials have said a hearing, where witness testimony and other evidence can be presented by both sides, could be held by fall. Bruyneel can choose to keep the hearing private or open it to the public.

Armstrong, who retired in 2011, also has been charged and says he is innocent. He filed a lawsuit this week in federal court in Austin in an attempt to block the case.

The Bruyneel announcement came amid sniping among Republicans in Congress about USADA and the case against Armstrong.

U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona issued a statement Friday supporting USADA "and it's right to undertake the investigation of, and bring charges against, Lance Armstrong."

"USADA's rules and processes, approved by America's athletes, the United States Olympic Committee and all U.S. sport federations, apply to all athletes regardless of their public profile or success in sport," McCain said.

McCain's comments were released a day after Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin called the charges against Armstrong a conspiracy theory, and questioned USADA's authority in the case.

Bruyneel is among Armstrong's closest friends and confidants. He was coach of Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams when Armstrong won the Tour de France from 1999-2005.

Three other medical staff and consultants on those teams received lifetime bans this week after they did not contest doping charges.

Bruyneel was considered the architect of Armstrong's success, mapping out and pushing Armstrong through punishing training rides in Europe to prepare for cycling's premiere event.

Armstrong has said Bruyneel is like "a brother," and one of the most influential people in his career.

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