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Armstrong fans believe he doped

AUSTIN, Texas -- Even Lance Armstrong's most die-hard fans are beginning to accept that their hero cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories after he stepped down as head of his Livestrong foundation and was dropped by major sponsors.

Plenty of people in Armstrong's cycling-mad Texas hometown stood by their man after he announced in August that he was no longer going to fight allegations from the U.S. Anti-Doping Association.

Some began to have doubts after the association's lengthy report came out last week, and the latest blows on Wednesday seem to have convinced even more.

Armstrong may have been stripped of his titles, but his seven yellow jerseys still hang on the wall of Mellow Johnny's, his Austin cycling shop.

Terry Burgess, who shops there regularly, said he is looking at them differently now.

“From what I've learned in the past week or so, I've come to the conclusion that he was over the top, with an elaborate and apparently great organization to pull off a doping scheme,” said Burgess, 57.

Even so, Burgess, who said he doesn't have a lot of faith that public figures won't lie and cheat, tried putting the controversy into perspective.

“It's not like he killed Santa Claus,” he told AFP.

Many fans said the doping doesn't take away from Armstrong's inspirational triumph over testicular cancer, his impact on the sport and the legacy he created through his charitable work.

Armstrong's fall from grace “does make you think about what you take stock in and what you believe,” Michael Salas, 38, said as he sat on the deck of an adjacent coffee shop, Juan Pelota, which is also owned by Armstrong.

“I don't care,” said Salas, a pedicab bicyclist from New York who came to Austin to work at a music festival.

“He's still Lance and still a symbol of strength. I don't know the guy personally but I still think he's awesome.”

Chef Daniel Olivella, 51, regularly goes out on group rides with Armstrong and Mellow Johnny's employees.

“I haven't lost faith in him. He's an extremely charismatic leader and he's done a lot for cycling,” Olivella told AFP as he left the bike shop.

“Nobody is pure in this world.”

Olivella said he rode with the group on Friday, the same day the anti-doping association released its report with more than 1,000 pages of evidence alleging Armstrong was at the center of what it called the biggest doping conspiracy in sports history.

“He's all smiles and being just like a regular guy,” Olivella said.

People riding and running the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, a 6-mile bike trail through the heart of Austin, had mixed opinions too.

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Livestrong CEO and President Doug Ulman discusses the future of the organization in Austin, Texas, Wednesday, Oct. 17. Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity on Wednesday. (AP)

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