Not so fast.
The doping-dazed sport of cycling has a logic all its own, and nearly all of the Texan’s second-place finishers had their own issues, cases, admissions or suspicions about drug use or cheating at one point or another.
It makes for no easy choices for cycling’s authorities and historians.
The International Cycling Union, UCI, has control on the record books, but has declined to comment until it learns of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s reasons for stripping Armstrong of his Tour titles on Friday. Tour organizers were even more mum, deferring to the UCI and USADA in a two-sentence statement.
It could take months, or years, to iron out. But a guessing game has already erupted about who will – or should – inherit Armstrong’s titles, and whether cycling chiefs might try to clean the slate once and for all.
Pierre Bordry, a former head of the French anti-doping agency, suggested the sport’s authorities should use the chance to send the message that cycling is clearing the wreckage deep in its doping past.
“When he’s stripped of his titles – if they do – from Mr. Armstrong ... they’re not necessarily required to give them to someone else,” he told France-Info radio. “It’s very clear that the titles of Tour de France champion mustn’t be awarded to people who faced suspicion that they were doped, or who were.”
Former Armstrong rival Filippo Simeoni of Italy told The Associated Press that the succession issue was “a good question. That entire decade was one big bluff.”
Even when riders were caught or admitted to doping, the penalties weren’t as severe as they would be today. Take 1999, the year of Armstrong’s first win. His runner-up was Swiss rider Alex Zulle, who a year earlier had admitted to having taken EPO for the previous four years. Under today’s rules, he would not have been allowed to ride in 1999.
Jan Ullrich of Germany, the 1997 Tour winner and a three-time runner-up to Armstrong, was the biggest-name cyclist among at least 50 implicated in the “Operation Puerto” police investigation in Spain in 2006. Only this past February, he received a two-year ban from the Court of Arbitration for Sport in that case, though he retired years ago. He also served a six-month ban after a positive test in 2002 for amphetamines.
Like the Festina case, Puerto again exposed the breadth of doping in cycling – either before or after some riders’ best Tour performances. The 2002 runner-up, Joseba Beloki of Spain, was also implicated, but was reportedly cleared later by a Spanish court of any involvement. Ivan Basso of Italy, the 2005 runner-up, served a two-year ban linked to the Puerto case.
The 2004 runner-up was Andreas Kloeden. In 2009, an independent German probe alleged his teams engaged in blood doping from 1995 to 2006, and that he used illegal transfusions during the 2006 Tour.
Kloeden, who like Basso is still competing professionally, has repeatedly denied doping.
Many factors determine how the record books might be tweaked.
In 2007, Bjarne Riis of Denmark admitted to using EPO, growth hormones and cortisone on his way to victory in the Tour in 1996 – more than a decade after the fact. The Tour’s history book left him as its winner but puts an asterisk next to his name, because “at the time of this admission, the statute of limitations had run out.” The World Anti-Doping Code has an eight-year statute of limitations on doping offenses.
French newspaper Liberation on Friday posited its unofficial estimate about “potential winners” based on a sweeping calculation that excluded any rider who tested positive, was implicated in doping, or even had contact with teams or doctors suspected of banned practices during the Armstrong era.
For example, the newspaper claimed little-known Italian Daniele Nardello was the highest-placed rider in the 2000 Tour never implicated in any doping or suspicion — and he finished 10th that year.
The daily also suggested the 2002 title could go to Carlos Sastre, the 10th-place finisher that year, and another for 2004 when he placed eighth. The Spaniard did win the Tour outright in 2008 — a race riddled with doping scandals. Also by Liberation’s reckoning, Cadel Evans of Australia, who won the 2011 Tour, would also have won in 2005, when he was eighth.
Tour officials have scrubbed the history books before.
This year, Andy Schleck of Luxembourg inherited the 2010 title in a ceremony in his home country — off the glamorous Champs-Elysees backdrop where the Tour finishes each year — after Spain’s Alberto Contador lost it in a doping case.
Before that, in 2007, after American Floyd Landis became the first cyclist to lose a Tour title for doping, race chiefs traveled to Spain to hand over the 2006 yellow jersey to his runner-up, Oscar Pereiro.
In a small but symbolic ceremony at Spain’s Sports Ministry, Tour President Christian Prudhomme hailed Pereiro as “a late winner, but ... a real winner.”
How times were simpler then: Now it’s up to cycling’s bosses to determine the “real winner” of the races still listed as Armstrong victories.