BEIJING (VN) — Tour de France officials confront the messy business of rejiggering the history books in the looming lifetime ban against seven-time winner Lance Armstrong.
Up to now, Tour officials have been discreet in commenting on the Armstrong case until the UCI makes its final decision on whether to rubber-stamp the ban against the Texan or challenge the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Fabrice Tiano, ASO spokesman, reiterated the Tour’s stance in light of USADA’s release Wednesday of the dossier to UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“Since the first time in August of the USADA case, ASO and the Tour de France stated that we are waiting for the UCI and nothing has changed since then,” Tiano told VeloNews on Wednesday. “We are just waiting for the UCI. There’s nothing more we can say now.”
During a visit to the Vuelta a España in September, Tour director Christian Prudhomme told journalists at the Spanish tour that he would answer questions about “everything except the Armstrong case.”
Tour officials have held behind-closed-doors discussions, but are holding their cards close to their chests.
But what will they likely do?
Perhaps they will follow the precedent set when Bjarne Riis admitted that he used EPO to win the 1996 Tour de France. Rather than officially award the race to second place, they simply put an asterisk next to Riis’s name with the addendum that he admitted he doped.
Armstrong’s case is different, however, in that the Texan has not publicly admitted to anything and insists that the USADA case against is without merit.
USADA is also taking Armstrong’s ban beyond the eight-year statute of limitations, meaning that the UCI could officially erase all seven of his history-making Tour victories from the history books.
The UCI will have 21 days to study the USADA dossier to decide whether to exercise its right to appeal.
UCI president Pat McQuaid was traveling to the Tour of Beijing on Wednesday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
McQuaid told VeloNews that the cycling federation had still not received the official USADA document at 11:30 a.m. Eastern.
At a press conference during last month’s road world championships, McQuaid said the UCI expected to impose the lifetime ban.
“The UCI is ready to takes it responsibility unless the USADA decision gives us some serious reason not to do so,” McQuaid said. “There is no intention to go to (the Court of Arbitration for Sport) or to not recognize the decision.”
Those words are the clearest indication yet that the UCI will impose the lifetime ban internationally and seal Armstrong’s fate.
Under WADA protocol, disqualified results are passed to the second-place rider. Andy Schleck inherited Alberto Contador’s Tour win in 2010 in the wake of the Spaniard’s clenbuterol case while Oscar Pereiro was awarded Floyd Landis’s win in 2006.
The Tour certainly won’t be keen to try to wade into the murky waters of awarding Armstrong’s wins to other riders with strong links to doping practices that were rife during cycling’s “EPO era.”
A quick glance at the Tour de France podium sheet from 1999 to 2005 reveals a long list of riders that have also had their fair share of doping troubles. Alex Zulle, second in 1999, admitted he was part of the large-scale doping ring at Festina just the previous summer.
Jan Ullrich, the German bruiser who was second three times to Armstrong, was banned by CAS for his links to the Operación Puerto blood-doping ring and already had his 2005 third-place result struck from the history books. Ivan Basso, second in 2005, later served a ban for his links to Puerto.
In fact, USADA counted 20 of the 21 podium finishers during that period as “directly tied to likely doping” through “admissions, sanction, public investigations or exceeding the UCI hematocrit.” That number grows to 36 out of 45 when the range includes 1996 to 2010, the archway of Armstrong’s top Tour run.
The question will certainly be on everyone’s tongues on October 24, when organizers officially unveil the route of the centenary Tour in Paris.