Lance Armstrong was today formally stripped of his seven Tour de France titles as the International Cycling Union addressed the “biggest crisis” in the sport’s history.
The UCI accepted the findings of the United States Anti-Doping Agency which found Armstrong guilty of masterminding sport’s most elaborate doping conspiracy.
At a hotel in Geneva today, the UCI came under intense pressure to explain how Armstrong was able to cheat while dominating the Tour de France and the Federation’s own failure to address the issue. Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, refused to resign and dismissed allegations contained in the USADA report that the board accepted a $100,000 donation from Armstrong to hush up a failed dope test in 2002.
The UCI will meet again on Friday to rule on whether to sue Armstrong for his career prize money earnings and to establish a “truth and reconciliation” commission to encourage more riders to reveal the depth of doping during the Armstrong era.
The six-month suspensions against the other riders from the United States Postal Services team who also confessed to doping have been upheld by the UCI.
The federation will decide in the future whether to award Armstrong’s Tour de France victories to other riders.
McQuaid quoted John F Kennedy at one stage as he called on colourful language to attack Armstrong, but behind the rhetoric there was little in the way of detail about how the UCI will address this scandal after the initial acceptance of the Usada report and punishment of Armstrong.
“This is a landmark day,” said McQuaid. “My message to cycling, to our riders, sponsors and fans is that cycling has a future. This is not the first time the sport has reached a crossroads or faced confronting the past.
“It will do so again with renewed vigour and purpose and its stakeholders and fans can be assured that it will find a new path forward.
“Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling. I am sorry we could not every damn one of them (dopers) red handed and thrown them out of the sport at the time. I feel sorry for the guys who raced clean and were beaten by these guys. They must feel sore now.”
McQuaid pointed to the omerta – a code of silence within the peloton – as the biggest obstacle to fighting doping and insisted the revelations contained within the USADA report came only when witnesses were faced with the prospect of perjury charges.
“When you look at this case you can see quite clearly without the assistance of police it wouldn’t have happened,” McQuaid added.
“It wasn’t until the intervention of the federal agents in the United States, when they called these riders in and they placed a gun and a badge in front of them on the table and told them ‘you are facing a grand jury, you now must tell the truth’. Those riders broke down and many of them did break down.
“The UCI doesn’t have those powers, USADA themselves don’t have those powers and most of the major busts in doping these days are done by police.”
The testimony of 11 former team-mates of Armstrong was key and they received six-month bans, which were also ratified by the UCI.
McQuaid added: “The UCI will also recognise the sanctions imposed on the riders who testified against Lance Armstrong; UCI indeed thanks them for telling their stories.”