Tour de France organisers said Friday they were against re-attributing Lance Armstrong’s seven wins as the sport’s doping crisis claimed a new victim – Johan Bruyneel, one of the disgraced American’s closest allies.
Armstrong, who denies taking banned substances, has been accused by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) of being at the heart of “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme” ever seen in sport.
The organisation announced that Armstrong was guilty of doping violations, raising questions about who would replace him at the top of the Tour podium between 1999 and 2005.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme said he was against re-allocating Armstrong’s victories, describing the revelations contained in the USADA’s 202-page “reasoned decision” and more than 1,000 pages of supporting testimony as “damning”.
“What we want is that there is no winner,” he said in his first comments on the report, calling the period a “lost decade” for the sport, which has been trying to clean up its act in recent years.
Prudhomme’s statement comes even though the International Cycling Union (UCI) has not confirmed USADA’s findings but could head off further controversy.
Replacing Armstrong as Tour winner has been a source of debate since August, given that the majority of those who finished second or third – and even lower down the field — have subsequently been implicated in doping scandals.
Finding a rider untouched by links to performance-enhancing drug use would have been a difficult – if not impossible – task.
Meanwhile, UCI president Pat McQuaid said it was still studying the USADA dossier against Armstrong, as pressure grew on it to respond to questions about how he managed to evade detection and whether he paid the body hush money for a positive test.
“The legal department has been told that this is a priority, that we get the job done as quickly as possible and certainly within that time frame we will be back,” he said on the sidelines of the Tour of Beijing.
Elsewhere, Armstrong’s former manager Bruyneel left his current team RadioShack on Friday, amid reports in Belgium that rider Fabian Cancellara was reviewing his future with the outfit because Bruyneel was cited so often in the USADA report.
“From this day on, Johan Bruyneel will no longer act in the position of general manager of cycling team RadioShack Nissan Trek,” a statement said on the team’s website.
“The decision published by the USADA included a number of testimonies as a result of their investigation. In light of these testimonies, both parties feel it is necessary to make this decision since Johan Bruyneel can no longer direct the team in an efficient and comfortable way.”
Meanwhile, British cyclist David Millar, who served a two-year doping ban but is now on the athletes’ committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency, called for UCI honorary president Hein Verbruggen to resign in the wake of the Armstrong scandal.
The Dutchman was president of the UCI as Armstrong powered his way into the history books and last year said he was convinced the racer had “never, never, never” doped.
Millar told Britain’s domestic Press Association that the UCI had to take some responsibility, as it was “obvious” from blood data and medical reports that doping was part of cycling’s culture, particularly in big races.
“There was only a tiny minority getting good results without drugs and they really were the outsiders. The first step for the UCI is that Verbruggen has to be removed,” he added, calling for him to admit that mistakes were made.
Tour de France director Prudhomme, however, called the UCI “pioneers” in the fight against drug use, highlighting the introduction of biological passports and increased testing, including out of competition.
British rider Bradley Wiggins also pointed out that widespread doping was not part of the current professional cycling culture.
“I don’t think that is relevant to what we are doing today. What we are doing today is setting the example for our sport,” the 2012 Tour winner and Olympic time-trial champion told Britain’s Sky News television.
Armstrong, meanwhile, was still maintaining his silence over the affair, tweeting only on his latest work with his Livestrong cancer charity.
“So proud of what we’ve accomplished together,” he wrote.
Tyler Hamilton, among 11 teammates who testified against Armstrong, said he was especially sad to learn that so many riders other than him were pressured into doping to succeed.
“A lot of these younger guys were pressured into it,” he said.
“It seems like there was, from what they said, a lot more pressure put on them than there was on me.
“It seems like Lance pressured a lot of the people, a lot of the younger riders to go ahead and do it, if not to help them, to support him. Even the doctors who were on the team were really his doctors.”