Stephen Roche: Armstrong's Tour de France victories should stand
Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche is one of a number of Tour de France winners who believes Lance Armstrong should be handed back his seven Tour titles.
As this year’s Tour reached the Rhone-Alpes region of eastern France on Wednesday, with an 11th stage from Besancon to Oyonnax, the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf published the results of a survey it conducted with the surviving winners of the race, with 12 of the 25 surviving winners of cycling’s biggest race of the opinion Armstrong’s titles should be reinstated.
Only Ferdi Kubler and Roger Walkowiak failed to respond, and of the remaining 23 more than half were of the opinion that the disgraced American should be rewritten into the history books.
“Armstrong should stay on that list,” said Roche, who won the Tour in 1987. “In the 100-year history of the race you can’t not have a winner for seven years. Doping has been part of sport, not only for cycling, for decades. Who tells me Jacques Anquetil won clean? Should we take his victories away? Or why does Richard Virenque get to keep his polka dot jerseys?”
After years of denials and lawsuits, Armstrong was eventually brought down when the United States Anti-Doping Agency published its so-called reasoned decision, in which it accused the seven-time champion and his US Postal team of “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”. Armstrong, who had already been issued a lifetime ban from all sports that adopt the World Anti-Doping Agency code and stripped of his seven Tour titles, subsequently confessed.
Those who felt that Armstrong should keep his titles were generally of the older generation, riders such as Felice Gimondi, Federico Bahamontes, Jan Janssen and 1980 winner Joop Zoetemelk. “They should never have erased Armstrong from the list. You can’t change results 10 years later. Of course it’s not good what he did but you can’t rewrite history,” Zoetemelk said.
Of the more recent winners only Andy Schleck and Oscar Pereiro felt Armstrong should keep his wins, with Schleck, who won his 2010 title after Alberto Contador tested positive, saying: “Who remembers who was second place in those races? I wouldn’t know myself. You can’t have seven races without a winner, so just leave Armstrong on the list.”
British winners Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins have both spoken out numerous times on this issue and they, like Australian Cadel Evans, are adamant that the Armstrong years (1999-2005) should serve as a reminder to current riders. “Those seven empty places symbolise an era. We should leave it like it is,” said Froome. Both Evans and Wiggins added that sending back the yellow jerseys might be a symbolic gesture.
Armstrong himself was contacted by De Telegraaf for a reaction but said he would “keep it to myself for now”.There seems little chance of the 42-year-old being reinstated. Tour director Christian Prudhomme said that public opinion would not allow it. “You ask the people along the route,” he said. “It’s clear, his name will not be on the list again. Period.”
Brian Cookson, the president of the UCI, has long encouraged Armstrong to speak to the independent commission [CIRC] set up to investigate cycling’s doping past. The Englishman said in a recent interview that he did not know whether Armstrong had yet done so. Cookson did admit, however, to errors in the UCI’s handling of the recent controversy over Froome’s use of a Therapeutic Use Exemption for corticosteroids to treat a chest infection during his Tour of Romandy win earlier this year.
Although the UCI’s decision to grant the TUE was given the all-clear by Wada, it later emerged that the TUE was signed off by just one man, the UCI’s chief medical officer Dr Mario Zorzoli, rather than by a committee of experts, as recommended.
Cookson admitted he did not even know before the controversy arose whether such a committee even existed. The UCI has since pledged that all TUE applications will go through a panel.
Explaining the delay in the UCI’s response to the controversy, Cookson said: “I wanted to make 100 per cent sure that the TUE committee did exist. That its members were aware that they were members. And we’ve checked that through now and they do exist and they have all reaffirmed their willingness to participate in that process.
“We’ve reinforced and reinvigorated the process. And I accept that we needed to do that.”