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 winner’s 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, it’s a catastrophe for him, and he has to face up to that.”
It’s also devastating for Tour de France organizers, who have to carve seven gaping holes from the honor roll of the sport’s biggest event and airbrush Armstrong’s image from a sun-baked podium on the Champs-Elysees.
No more rides through Paris for the grim-faced cancer survivor bearing the American flag. No champagne. From the sport’s perspective, it’s all gone.
“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.”
Armstrong’s 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. Monday’s 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 €2.95 million ($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 rider’s 2004 Tour victory after it alleged he doped to win.
The U.S. government could also get involved in a case brought by Floyd Landis, who was key to taking down his illustrious former teammate by turning whistleblower in 2010.
The losses pile up for a man who dedicated himself to victory, over other cyclists and the cancer that almost killed him in 1996.
Neither Armstrong nor his representatives had any comment about Monday’s decision, but the rider was defiant in August when he chose not to fight USADA in one of the agency’s arbitration hearings. He argued the process was rigged against him.
“I know who won those seven Tours, my teammates know who won those seven Tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven Tours,” Armstrong said then. “The toughest event in the world where the strongest man wins. Nobody can ever change that.”
The condemnation by McQuaid, cycling’s most senior official, confirmed Armstrong’s pariah status, after the UCI had backed him at times in trying to seize control of the doping investigation from USADA.
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 Armstrong’s 2000 Olympic bronze medal and the possibility of setting up a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission to air the sport’s 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 in a release.
The International Olympic Committee said it would study the UCI’s response and wait to receive its full decision before possibly taking away Armstrong’s medal from the Sydney Games time trial.
“It is good to see that all parties involved in this case are working together to tackle this issue,” the IOC said.
McQuaid said he was “sickened” by some of the evidence detailed by USADA in its 200-page report and hundreds of pages of supporting testimony and documents.
USADA said Armstrong was at the center of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” within his U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.
The American agency welcomed the decision by UCI.
“Today, the UCI made the right decision in the Lance Armstrong case,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement, which called on cycling to continue to fight doping. “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.”
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.
McQuaid singled out former teammate David Zabriskie, saying: “The story he told of how he was coerced and to some extent forced into doping is just mind-boggling.”
Armstrong denies doping, saying he passed hundreds of drug tests, as many as 500. UCI conducted 218 tests and there were another 51 by USADA, although they are not the only drug-testing bodies.
“At the moment Lance Armstrong hasn’t admitted to anything, yet all the evidence is there in this report that he doped,” McQuaid said.
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.
Armstrong’s astonishing return from life-threatening illness to the summit of cycling offered an inspirational story that transcended the sport. His downfall has ended “one of the most sordid chapters in sports history,” USADA said in its report.