GENEVA – Seven lines of blanks. From 1999 to 2005. There will be no Tour de France winner in the record book for those years.
Once the toast of the Champs-Elysees, Lance Armstrong was formally stripped of his seven Tour titles Monday and banned for life for doping.
As far as the Tour is concerned, his victories never happened. He was never on the top step of the podium. The winners yellow jersey was never on his back.
The decision by the International Cycling Union marked an end to the saga that brought down the most decorated rider in Tour history and exposed widespread cheating in the sport.
Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling, and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling, said Pat McQuaid, president of the governing body. Make no mistake, its a catastrophe for him, and he has to face up to that.
Its also devastating for Tour de France organizers, who have to carve seven gaping holes from the honor roll of the sports biggest event and airbrush Armstrongs image from a sun-baked podium on the Champs-Elysees.
We wish that there is no winner for this period, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said Monday in Paris. For us, very clearly, the titles should remain blank. Effectively, we wish for these years to remain without winners.
Armstrongs fiercely defended reputation as a clean athlete was shattered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency two weeks ago, when it detailed evidence of drug use and trafficking by his Tour-winning teams. USADA released its report to show why it ordered Armstrong banned from competition back in August. Mondays judgment by the UCI was just the necessary next legal step to formalize the loss of his titles and expel him from the sport.
It will likely also trigger painful financial hits for Armstrong as race organizers and former sponsors line up to reclaim what are now viewed as his ill-gotten rewards, though the cyclist maintains he never doped.
Prudhomme wants Armstrong to pay back prize money from his seven wins, which the French cycling federation tallied at $3.85 million. Armstrong also once was awarded $7.5 million plus legal fees from Dallas-based SCA Promotions Inc., which tried to withhold paying a bonus for the riders 2004 Tour victory after it alleged he doped to win.
McQuaid announced that the UCI accepted the sanctions imposed by USADA and would not appeal them to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. His board will meet Friday to discuss going after Armstrongs 2000 Olympic bronze medal and the possibility of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation commission to air the sports remaining secrets.
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 programs that have clearly damaged cycling over the last decade, World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey said.
The USADA report said Armstrong and his teams used steroids, the blood booster EPO and blood transfusions. The report included statements from 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong, including that he pressured them to take banned drugs.
In all, 26 people – including 15 riders – testified to USADA that Armstrong and his teams used and trafficked banned substances and routinely used blood transfusions. Among the witnesses were loyal sidekick George Hincapie and admitted dopers Landis and Tyler Hamilton.
While drug use allegations have followed the 41-year-old Armstrong throughout much of his career, the USADA report has badly damaged his reputation. Longtime sponsors Nike, Trek Bicycles and Anheuser-Busch dropped him last week, and Armstrong also stepped down as chairman of Livestrong, the cancer awareness charity he founded 15 years ago after surviving testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain.
After the UCI decision, another longtime Armstrong sponsor, Oakley sunglasses, cut ties with the rider.