Paris – The Tour de France roll of honour risks being turned on its head should seven-time winner Lance Armstrong be proved guilty of cheating.
The Texan, who won cycling's greatest race from 1999 to 2005 – faces new doping allegations brought by the US Anti-Doping Agency this week, acusations which he vehemently denies.
If eventually proved and Armstrong is punished he risks having his seven record Tour titles stripped from his CV, leaving organisers of the cycling blue riband with a major headache.
Not only will they have to tackle the problem of reassigning his seven wins but also the 22 stages he claimed in the years he made the celebrated race his own.
In the modern era two cyclists have been awarded the Tour de France on a disqualification.
Spain's Oscar Pereiro was awarded the 2006 race after American winner Floyd Landis was stripped of his title for doping. Pereiro's compatriot, Alberto Contador, also found guilty of doping, was replaced by Andy Schleck as the winner in 2010.
In each of these cases the yellow jersey was handed to the runner-up over one year after the finish on the Champs Elysees – an interminable delay justified by requiring the necessary appeal procedures to run their course.
During the Armstrong era the runner-up on three occasions (2000, 2001 and 2003) was Jan Ullrich – the German who himself was punished for doping and who was stripped of his third place finish in the 2005 Tour.
So in the event that Armstrong did lose his titles Ullrich, the only German winner of the Tour when claiming the 1997 edition, could find himself accredited with no fewer than four Tour de France triumphs – placing him in front of champions like France's Louison Bobet or American great Greg LeMond.
Another rider tainted by doping to benefit if Armstrong's name is eventually etched out of Tour history is Ivan Basso.
The Italian would be in line to be named the winner of the 2005 Tour. He served a ban for doping as part of the Puerto affair but was not stripped of his win in the 2006 Tour of Italy.
The other three cyclists to finish runner-up to Armstrong were Switzerland's Alex Zulle (1999), who had just emerged that year from the shadows of a suspension from the Festina case, Spain's Joseba Beloki (2002) and German Andreas Kloden (2004).
The latest allegations against Armstrong surfaced on Wednesday.
The Washington Post was among the media outlets reported that US Anti-Doping Authority (Usada) had written to Armstrong saying blood samples taken from him in 2009 and 2010 – when he came out of retirement – were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.”
According to the Post Usada claims it has witnesses to the fact that Armstrong and five former cycling team associates – including Italian doctor Michele Ferrari and cycling team manager Johan Bruyneel – engaged in a doping conspiracy from 1998-2011.
Armstrong, however, said the witnesses cited by Usada were the same ones who spoke to federal investigators during a two-year probe that ended in February without any criminal charges being brought.
He called the charges “baseless” and “motivated by spite,” adding that the fact that other cyclists weren't charged demonstrates Usada's “vendetta” against him. – Sapa-AFP