Lance Armstrong pledges to continue fund-raising

Disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong has made his first public appearance since he was officially named as being a doping ringleader in the world of professional cycling.

The seven-times winner of the Tour de France appeared in Austin, Texas, at a 15th anniversary fundraiser for his cancer awareness foundation Livestrong, and received a standing ovation from the audience of 1700 when he took to the stage to speak.

He indirectly addressed the doping controversy by saying the past two weeks "have been difficult".

"I am humbled by your support," he said. "It's been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family, my friends and this foundation.

"I've been better but I've also been worse.

"The mission absolutely must go on. We will not be deterred. We will go forward. Twenty-eight million people around the world need us."

Armstrong also quoted Martin Luther King in reference to his fall from grace, saying: "We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope."

Still an inspiration - Sean Penn

The mainstream media were banned from the auditorium but a member of the audience filmed part of the speech and the video has since been uploaded online.

Armstrong has been banned from cycling and stripped of his titles by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) after being accused of being a central figure in an elaborate doping conspiracy.

He has also been dropped by sponsors Nike and bikemaker Trek.

Cycling's governing body is expected next week to ratify the USADA ruling.

A number of American politicians attended the gala, as did actors Sean Penn, Ben Stiller and Matthew McConaughey and singer Norah Jones.

"Lance has developed an organisation that has become an inspiration to me and to others," Penn said, "and I think it will remain."

Asked if Armstrong is still an inspiration, Penn said: "I think anyone who looks at this with a clear eye will see it as hypocritical to think otherwise."

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