Armstrong’s un-awardable Tour de France titles

The shamed cyclist is stripped of his seven victories, but there's hardly a clean record among his competitors

Topics: Alex Zulle, Jan Ullrich, Cycling, Doping, Tour de France, Lance Armstrong, steroids, Sports, Joseba Beloki, , ,

Cycling’s governing body, UCI, officially banned Lance Armstrong for life for doping Monday, stripping the once celebrated sportsman and charity wristband trailblazer of his seven Tour de France titles.

Many people have wondered whether Armstrong’s titles will be re-awarded to whomever came second in the seven races dating back to 1999. However, Tour de Frace director Christian Prudhomme announced earlier this month that, if Armstrong is stripped of his titles, no one will be crowned winner for those years.  Prudhomme said the Tour title under Armstong’s reign, “depicts an era and a system which are forever soiled. The best solution is to say that there should be no winner those years.”

One might think the director’s decision would enrage the second-place cyclists who battled against Armstrong those years. However, all of Armstrong’s runner-ups have been embroiled in some sort of doping scandal over the past decade or so, even if some may have been clean the years in which they came second to Armstrong. With an entire sport permeated with doping, no cyclist has stepped forward to demand Armstrong’s sullied titles.

In 1999, runner-up Alex Zulle may have been clean at the time, but he was banned from the Tour for doping the previous year with his Festina team. Zulle admitted along with five teammates to taking EPO (erythropoietin) — a banned blood booster central to the Armstrong scandal.

Armstrong’s second-place competitor in 2000, 2001 and 2003 was Jan Ullrich. Ullrich’s mentor Rudy Pevenage told Reuters recently that the cyclist was totally clean when he was beaten by Armstrong those years (after having been involved in the Festina scandal mentioned above). Pevenage said that Ullrich resumed doping as a “victim” of competing on Armstong’s unfair playing field. Ullrich was stripped of his 2005 Tour third place award for doping and was then barred from the sport. He’s an unlikely candidate if there ever was one to demand any of Armstrong’s titles.



Spanish cyclist Joseba Beloki may be the one candidate from that era of cycling worthy of being passed on Armstrong’s titles. He followed the U.S. cyclist in 2002, having finished third in the two previous years. Beloki was not free from scandal, however. He was implicated in a 2006 operation by Spanish police investigating the doping network of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. Beloki was banned from the 2006 tour but later cleared of any wrongdoing in the so-called “Operación Puerto.”

In 2004, Armstrong’s runner-up Andreas Kloden was charged with receiving an illegal transfusion of his own blood to boost performance. Second place in 2005 (Armstrong’s final winning year) went to Ivan Basso. Basso, an Italian cyclist, admitted in 2007 that he was planning to use doping and was suspended for two years.

Bradley Wiggins, the British cyclist who won the 2012 Tour, recently said what the records of Armstrong’s closest competitors make clear. “It’s not about  [Armstrong] as a person, it’s about the culture of the sport and peer pressure.” He admitted that he was thankful for not being exposed to such a cycling world. The UCI has stripped Armstrong of his titles, but, in refusing to pass on his victories, the Tour officials have tried to draw a curtain on a “soiled” cycling era and culture.

 

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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