Cycling's Dreaded Asterisk
When Tour de France Director Christian Prudhomme confirmed today that he doesn't want Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories re-awarded, he boldly stated, "This era must be remembered as an era without winners." That shouldn't be a problem, given that the Tour podium since the beginning of the "Lance era" has held up enough dopers to fill the Betty Ford Center.
Prudhomme's statement, of course, came on the heels of the UCI's decision to ratify the USADA verdict to ban Armstrong and disqualify all of his cycling results going back to August of 1998. It seems like a dramatic move at first, to leave what many consider the world's greatest cycling race winner-less from 1999 to 2005, but by doing so Prudhomme is trying to make a point: The Tour de France needs a fresh start. And it's a fair one given the Tour's recent history.
As outlined in the USADA's report, 20 of the 21 riders on the podium from 1999 through 2005 have been "directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations" or other means. Further, 36 of 45 riders to reach the podium between 1996 and 2010 were "similarly tainted by doping."
Prior to Armstrong, only four Tour podium finishers have actually been stripped of their results in recent times, including Floyd Landis (2006 winner), Alberto Contador (2010 winner), Jan Ullrich (3rd, 2005) and Bernhard Kohl (3rd, 2008). Those cyclists were outraged in their public shaming. Contador raised hell when he was stripped of his Tour win and the 2011 Giro d'Italia, and channeled his rage into a magnificent (but—come on—questionable) win at this year's Vuelta e España. Floyd Landis swore up and down that he didn't dope, even starting a $1 million fan-funded Floyd Fairness Fund to help pay his legal bills, until he finally performed an abrupt 180° in 2010, and began pointing fingers at Lance and company.
And the cyclists who replaced them on the podium—Óscar Pereiro taking over 1st in 2006 and Andy Schleck becoming the 2010 champ—were no happier, for their newly earned victories will forever have a qualifying asterisk next to them. It says, "He is the winner, yes, but he didn't really have the best time overall." Denied the glory once, denied it forever.
What would happen if Armstrong's Tour victories were re-awarded? This chart from Velonews helps tell the tale (click to enlarge):
Sadly, all seven of Armstrong's replacements have also been implicated in doping at one point or another. So, rather than further confuse the issue of who's won the Tour de France for the past 13 years, Prudhomme wants to leave a gaping hole in the record books to remind riders and fans alike (though fans need no reminding) that nobody wins when everybody cheats. "Our challenge is to regain credibility," Prudhomme said at this morning's press conference. We agree, and it will likely be a long, bumpy road for not just the Tour de France, but all of pro cycling.