24 August 2012

What if the Tour were Armstrong winless?

"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough.' For me, that time is now." 

These words of Lance Armstrong today have far reaching ramifications for cycling and the Tour de France. World Anti-Doping Agency chief John Fahey, said:

"[Armstrong] had the right to rip up those charges but elected not to.

"Therefore the only interpretation in these circumstances is that there was substance in those charges.

"My understanding is that when the evidence is based upon a career that included seven Tour de France wins, then all of that becomes obliterated." 

Ullrich leaving before the start of 2006 Tour
So with those seven titles obliterated it makes Jan Ulrich GER not a one time winner but a four time winner, his second behind Marco Pantani is also looked by some as a doubtful outcome considering Pantani's later record (named in Operación Puerto posthumously) and untimely death. He could be credited with the wins in 2000, 2001 and 2003. He was also 4th in 2004 but he too was stripped of his 2005 third place earlier this year as a result of the Operación Puerto doping case. He was about to take part in the 2006 Tour and was suspended just prior to starting that Tour as a result of the Puerto list of names.

Alex Zülle SUI was second to Armstrong in his first 'win' in 1999, but the year before Zülle was caught up in the Festina affair the year before and admitted to taking EPO. In November 1998 his haematocrit was found to be 52.3% the limit is 50%. Under rules today he would have been suspended at the time he came second to Armstrong.

The 2002 win should go to Joseba Beloki SPA who the following year coming off his bike ahead of Armstrong who then famously went cross country to rejoin the race. However, in 2006 he was also implicated in Operación Puerto but cleared by Spanish authorities, the same Spanish authorities who recently cleared Contador to race only for the UCI to end up giving him a suspension. He's also come 3rd in 2000 and 2001 behind Armstrong and Ullrich.

2004 the runner up was Andreas Klöden GER who has faced accusations of an illegal blood transfusion in 2006 as well as being part of the Astana Team in 2007 that was withdrawn after the team leader Alexander Vinokourov had a positive test proven.

Finally it leads to 2005 where Ivan Basso ITA came in behind Armstrong, Basso was another one caught up in the Peurto scandal and in 2007 was handed a two year ban which included his suspension from his own team and lasted therefore until October 2008. He was also 3rd in 2004.

Further down the general classifications:

  • Fernando Escartin SPA (Kelme)  3rd 1999 - was part of a team that in 2004 former team member Jesús Manzano accused of systematic doping during his time with the team from 2000-2004 just after Escartin's highest placing in Le Tour
  • Laurant Dufaux SUI (Saeco) 4th 1999 - was part of the Festina Team that was kicked off the 1998 Tour and he admitted to doping at that time.
  • Ángel Casero SPA (Vitalicio Seguros) 5th 1999 - was one of the already retired riders names in Operación Puerto.
  • Christophe Moreau FRA (Festina) 4th 2000 - was one of the initial three members of the 1998 Festina team to admit to using EPO and served a 6 month suspension.
  • Roberto Heras SPA (Kelme-Costa Blanca) 5th 2000 - would have won a 4th record Vuelta a España in 2005 if he wasn't banned for EPO usage. He was also part of the same Kelme set up as above for Escartin, before spending three years in US Postal with Armstrong.
  • Andrei Kivilev KAZ (Cofidis) 4th 2001 - came behind Armstrong, Ullrich and Beloki. His legacy is not one of drugs but two years later on stage 2 of Paris-Nice he crashed while not wearing a helmet and died of his injuries as a result the wearing of helmets became compulsory.
  • Igor González SPA (ONCE) 5th 2001 and 2002 - however in 2003 he was not allowed to take part in Le Tour because he was deemed to have gained advantage from the asthma drug salbutamol and was banned from taking part in races on French soil. During that 'ban' period which only applied in France he actually won the Vuelta a España.
  • Raimondas Rumšas LIT (Lampre) 3rd 2002 - but on the last day of that race drugs had been found in a car driven by his wife, who claimed they including EPO, anabolic steroids, testosterone and growth hormone were for her mother-in-law. The following year after just completing the Giro d'Italia in 6th place he tested positive for EPO and was banned for one year. He was arrested, charged and given a suspended sentance with importing illegal drugs along with his wife in 2005 in relation to the 2002 case.
  •  Santiago Botero COL (Kelme) 4th 2002 - was later suspended by his then Phonak Team in 2004 when he was named in connection with Operación Puerto. He was subsequently cleared by the Colombian Cycling Federation.
  • Alexandre Vinokourov KAZ (Astana) 3rd 2003 5th 2005 - whilst he was never implicated in Operación Puerto five of his team mates were and his team Astana-Würth withdrew from the 2006 Tour as they had not enough riders to start. However, in 2007 Vinokourov was not in the GC contenders after a crash in the final 25km of stage 5. He had a bad day in the mountains before a remarkable recovery in the time trail the day after, then winning in the mountains two days later. The next day it was announced that he  tested positive for a suspected blood transfusion on the day of the time trial and was stripped of both those stages.
  • Tyler Hamilton USA (Team CSC) 4th 2003 - in 2004 after winning the Olympic time trial his A sample was reported as positive, but his B sample was unable to be tested so he originally kept his medal, but as a stage winner later in that year's Vuelta a España he again tested positive and was handled a 2 year ban. He was named in Operación Puerto, an then in 2009 as part of his comeback tested positive again and was handed an eight year ban. He is also one of Armstrong's ex-team mates, from his first three 'wins', to have testified against him saying he use EPO before and during those three Tour. Earlier this month the IOC stripped him of his 2004 Olympic title.
  • Haimar Zubeldia SPA (Euskaltel) 5th 2003 - has never been under any suspicion of doping offenses and came 6th in this year's Tour.
  • José Azevedo POR (US Postal Service) 5th 2004 - although part of Armstrong's US Postal team from 2004 -2006 Azevedo has never been implicated in any doping scandal.
  • Francisco Mancebo SPA (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne) 4th 2005 - was another of those implicated in Operación Puerto an not allowed to compete in the 2006 Tour and announced his retirement immediately after that. Although he then at the end of the year changed his mind about retirement.
So even if the seven titles are taken from Armstrong there are suspicions over all the beneficiaries and in some cased the entire podium. Looking at names that have never been linked to doping allegation in those 7 tours the cleanest possible line up of 'winners' are:

  • 1999 Daniele Nardello ITA Mapei +17'02" who had the 7th best accrued time
  • 2000 Daniele Nardello ITA Mapei +18'25" 10th
  • 2001 Andrei Kivilev KAZ Cofidis +9'53" 4th (see above)
  • 2002 José Azevedo POR ONCE +15'44" 6th (see above)
  • 2003 Haimar Zubeldia SPA Euskaltel +6'51" 5th (see above)
  • 2004 José Azevedo POR US Postal +14'30" 5th
  • 2005 Haimar Zubeldia SPA Euskaltel +23'43" 15th
So just how far into the past an how far down the pecking order are people going to take this retrospective removal of Palmarès.

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