Lance Armstrong

LANCE Armstrong’s spectacular fall from grace was made complete yesterday when the International Cycling Union stripped him of all seven of his Tour de France titles and banned him from the sport for life.

For years Armstrong was probably the most celebrated sportsman on the planet. His achievements – winning what might be the toughest sporting contest on earth from 1999 to 2005 after beating cancer – were thrilling. His charity work in the fight against cancer added to this reputation.

All the while, though, there were whispers about a darker side to the man. Accusations of bullying and a cold-eyed ruthlessness were levelled at him as the talk about doping began to swirl.

The recent US Anti-Doping Agency report and the testimony of 11 former team-mates – among them once close friends of Armstrong – have now removed any doubt: he cheated his way to that series of wins.

Among those admitting to doping was George Hincapie, the only rider by Armstrong’s side in all seven of those victories.

His closest lieutenant in the 1999 and 2000 Tours, Tyler Hamilton, has documented in detail in a new book how he, Armstrong and other team-mates doped. It is a mind-boggling read.

Yesterday UCI president Pat McQuaid, announcing his organisation’s decision, said Armstrong now “has no place in cycling”.

The revelations have all been blows to cycling, which has, ironically, been making good gains in recent years in the fight against doping.

The UCI and the Tour de France organisers should now agree to leave blanks in place of Armstrong’s name on the race winners’ roll.

It is common cause that most, if not all, of the top riders of that time were doping – they could not compete if they did not: having no winners for those years would be a forceful reminder for future generations of cyclists of what happens to cheats.

And the UCI, having at last acted decisively against Armstrong, has a duty to continue in the same manner.

It needs to pursue every hint of doping with the same vigour as Usada did – the sport must clean itself and never again rely on an outside agency to flush out the cheats.