Cycling is taking another stab at cleaning up the sport, looking for ways to ban dopers even from peripheral roles and deciding the Lance Armstrong years were so dirty no one should get the Tour de France titles he lost.
Friday’s move came days after the sport’s governing body agreed to strip the seven-time winner of his victories, acknowledging that he had doped on an epic scale under their noses. And it follows ferocious criticism that the Union Cycliste Internationale needed to shape up or risk the loss of all its credibility.
The embattled governing body confirmed that the record books for the most storied and glamorous race in cycling will have no winners for seven straight years. They called also for Mr. Armstrong to return money that he earned for coming first in the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005.
The prize money is believed to be around $4-million and is just the start of what is expected to be repeated attempts to extract ill-gotten funds from the disgraced cyclist. Late this week a company that paid him performance bonuses for several years was fine-tuning a formal demand for the return of that money, thought to add up to a further $12-million.
UCI leaders argued after a high-level meeting in Geneva that “enormous strides” had been made in the fight against doping. But they also acknowledged they needed to bolster public confidence and will establish an independent external commission “to look into the various allegations made about UCI relating to the Armstrong affair.”
The decision was an obvious attempt to draw a line under the wave of bad publicity sparked after Mr. Armstrong was revealed to have doped and cheated during his reign atop the sport, while bullying into complicity or silence many of those who might have exposed him.
“UCI is determined to turn around this painful episode in the history of our sport,” president Pat McQuaid said in a statement. “We will take whatever actions are deemed necessary ... and we will put cycling back on track.”
The UCI said it would drop a defamation suit against Irish journalist Paul Kimmage, who had accused them of corruption, while continuing to insist that its case had merit. But it was silent about a blistering on-line post by three-time Tour champion Greg LeMond, now the only American to have won the race, who on Wednesday called the UCI corrupt and urged Mr. McQuaid to resign.
“I thought you loved cycling? At one time you did and if you did love cycling please dig deep inside and remember that part of your life- allow cycling to grow and flourish- please! It is time to walk away,” he wrote.
The UCI pledged to find ways to prevent dopers from having any role in the sport, including “as part of an entourage.” On the face of it this would seem to require a purge of cycling. Many people involved in the sport, including some who have risen to senior management positions, have admitted doping in the past. And few outfits currently take the hard line shown by Team Sky, which this week parted ways with coach Bobby Julich after he admitted doping more than a decade ago during his riding career.
The decision not to re-allocate Mr. Armstrong’s titles, although floated earlier this week, is a break from tradition. In 2006, journeyman cyclist Oscar Pereiro was surprised to find himself the Tour winner after Floyd Landis was stripped. And Andy Schleck was elevated to first place in the 2010 Tour after Alberto Contador was found to have doped.
“The Management Committee decided not to award victories to any other rider or upgrade other placings in any of the affected events,” the UCI said in its statement. “... while this might appear harsh for those who rode clean, they would understand there was little honour to be gained in reallocating places.”
Jan Ullrich, who won the Tour once and came second to Mr. Armstrong on three occasions, had previously said he was content with his placings.
The call for prize monies to be returned may be more complicated. Tour winners have traditionally distributed this money to their supporting riders. And while the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency found widespread doping on Mr. Armstrong’s team, they did not allege that every teammate was taking part.