Hungry for a superstar to boost their sport, international cycling officials repeatedly bent their own rules in allowing Lance Armstrong to cheat his way to one historic victory after another, according to a report released Monday.
The 227-page document -- commissioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport's governing body -- also suggested that doping remains prevalent among today's elite racers.
Although other cyclists are mentioned, many of the most critical findings from the yearlong investigation center on Armstrong.
"Numerous examples have been identified showing that UCI leadership 'defended' or 'protected' Lance Armstrong and took decisions because they were favourable to him," the Cycling Independent Reform Commission stated. "This was in circumstances where there was strong reason to suspect him of doping."
Armstrong was exempted from certain rules and never targeted for testing. However, the commission found no evidence that donations he made to UCI influenced his treatment.
Now acknowledging that doping was rampant in the sport, Armstrong offered his support for the findings.
"I am deeply sorry for many things I have done," he said in a statement. "It is my hope that revealing the truth will lead to a bright, dope-free future for the sport I love."
The disgraced cyclist has been stripped of the record seven Tour de France titles he won from 1999 to 2005.
In response to allegations of continued problems, UCI President Brian Cookson said: "I do believe that there is still an endemic problem of lower-level doping throughout different levels of our sport."