Armstrong Tour titles stripped, ban confirmed
GENEVA – Lance Armstrong's epic fall has concluded with the loss of seven Tour de France titles, leaving cycling with a gaping hole in its record book and grasping for a way to move past a drug-tainted era.
"Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling... He deserves to be forgotten in cycling," Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), said on Monday in Geneva as he called the scandal "the biggest crisis" the sport had faced.
In a highly anticipated announcement, seen by some as a key marker of the UCI's determination to battle doping in the sport, the UCI backed the US Anti-Doping Agency's decision to erase Armstrong's entire career since August 1, 1998.
It was the final blow to Armstrong's increasingly fragile reputation as the cancer survivor who beat incredible odds to win cycling's premier race every year from 1999-2005.
Although Armstrong himself had gone to ground on Monday, a change on his Twitter profile hinted he had accepted his fate.
The phrase "7-time Tour de France winner" evaporated from his @lancearmstrong profile, along with a reference to triathlon, in which he is also now banned from elite competition as a drug cheat.
Otherwise, Armstrong had no comment as the World Anti-Doping Agency, cycling federations, race organisers and former riders broadly welcomed the UCI decision as an inevitable step.
"WADA is encouraged that the UCI feels it can use this case as a catalyst to thoroughly clean up its sport and remove any remaining vestiges of the doping programmes that have clearly damaged cycling over the last decade," WADA president John Fahey said in a statement.
USADA chief Travis Tygart said cycling must seize this moment to end a code of silence that allowed doping to flourish.
"There are many more details of doping that are hidden, many more doping doctors, and corrupt team directors, and the omerta has not yet been fully broken," said Tygart, whose agency painstakingly built a damning case against Armstrong based on testimony of witnesses, including former team-mates who themselves admitted cheating.
Armstrong's remarkable cancer backstory and Tour triumphs had been key to restoring cycling's tattered image after a string of high-profile doping scandals in the 1990s.
For years he vehemently denied doping, but in August he said he would not fight USADA's charges, paving the way for the agency to go public with its report.
In all, 26 people – including 11 former team-mates – told USADA that Armstrong and his team used and trafficked in banned drugs and also used blood transfusions, and that Armstrong pressured others to do so.
Armstrong stands to lose more than his sporting reputation.
He has already lost a stream of sponsors – with sunglasses manufacturer Oakley joining the exodus on Monday – and now he will face demands to return performance bonuses and perhaps even prize money.
Texas insurance company SCA Promotions confirmed it would seek to recoup at least $7.5 million paid out in bonuses to Armstrong under a contract with Tailwind Sports, owner of the American's former US Postal Service team. "Mr Armstrong is no longer the official winner of any Tour de France races and as a result it is inappropriate and improper for him to retain any bonus payments made by SCA," said SCA lawyer Jeffrey Dorough, who confirmed the company would consider legal action.
The scandal goes beyond Armstrong, however, with McQuaid angrily rejecting charges that the UCI turned a blind eye, or even facilitated, doping during the American's glory days.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has said Armstrong's Tour victories are unlikely to be re-awarded – because so many of those who finished behind him have also been linked to doping.
McQuaid, who succeeded Hein Verbruggen as president of the UCI after Armstrong's seventh and final Tour victory in 2005, is credited with boosting the body's anti-doping programme, notably with the pioneering blood passport scheme.
However, the Irishman was under pressure to answer how Armstrong and his teams managed to dope for so long without being detected.
Verbruggen stepped down in 2006 but remains honorary president. He ran the UCI during Armstrong's golden era, when some say Armstrong and his team-mates evaded dope tests either by hiding or being tipped off in advance. The Dutchman has also been accused of protecting Armstrong – even accepting a donation to cover up a positive dope test. McQuaid on Monday said the UCI "absolutely deny" that Armstrong bought off the body.
Amid calls for the UCI to distance itself from Verbruggen, Scot David Millar – who served a two-year doping ban before becoming a clean-sport advocate – said the UCI should take responsibility for the Armstrong scandal.
"Mr Verbruggen didn't hold David Millar's hand when he was sticking a needle into himself, no more than he held any of the USPS riders' hands when they were sticking needles into themselves," McQuaid said.
"They took that decision, and then they did it in a very covert way, trying to beat the system." AFP