PARIS, France (AFP) — The Tour de France roll of honor risks being turned on its head should seven-time winner Lance Armstrong be proven guilty of cheating.
The Texan — who won cycling’s greatest race from 1999 to 2005 — faces new doping allegations brought by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency this week, accusations which he vehemently denies.
If eventually proven and Armstrong is punished, he risks having his record seven Tour titles stripped from his palmarès, leaving Tour owner ASO with a major headache.
Not only will organizers have to tackle the problem of reassigning his seven wins, but also the 22 stages he claimed in the years he made the celebrated race his own.
In the modern era two cyclists have been awarded the Tour de France as the result of a disqualification.
Spain’s Oscar Pereiro was awarded the 2006 race after American winner Floyd Landis was stripped of his title for doping. Pereiro’s compatriot, Alberto Contador, also found guilty of doping, was replaced just last month by Andy Schleck as the winner of 2010 race.
In each of these cases the yellow jersey was handed to the runner-up over one year after the finish on the Champs Elysées — an interminable delay justified by requiring the necessary appeal procedures to run their course.
During the Armstrong era the runner-up on three occasions (2000, 2001 and 2003) was Jan Ullrich — the German who himself was punished for doping and who was stripped of his third place finish in the 2005 Tour.
So in the event that Armstrong did lose his titles, Ullrich, the only German winner of the Tour when claiming the 1997 edition, could find himself accredited with no fewer than four Tour de France triumphs — placing him in front of champions like France’s Louison Bobet or American great Greg LeMond.
Another rider tainted by doping to benefit if Armstrong’s name is eventually etched out of Tour history is Ivan Basso.
The Italian would be in line to be named the winner of the 2005 Tour. He served a ban for doping as part of the Operacion Puerto affair but was not stripped of his win in the 2006 Giro d’Italia.
The other three cyclists to finish runner-up to Armstrong were Switzerland’s Alex Zulle (1999), who had just emerged that year from the shadows of a suspension from the Festina case, Spain’s Joseba Beloki (2002) and German Andreas Klöden (2004).
The latest allegations against Armstrong surfaced on Wednesday.
The Washington Post broke the story that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had written to Armstrong saying blood samples taken from him in 2009 and 2010 — when he came out of retirement — were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”