After months of allegations and weeks of speculation, it is now official. The International Cycling Union (UCI) has officially stripped Lance Armstrong of all seven of his Tour de France titles and banned in from competition for life. In the ruling, the UCI upheld the findings released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency earlier this month in which that organization stated that Armstrong was at the center of “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
Today’s story follows the announcement last week that Nike, along with most of Armstrong’s other endorsement deals, were were dropping their contracts with they cyclist amidst the rising scandal. Only eyewear company Oakley took a “wait and see” approach. Today, Oakley pulled their endorsement deal as well. All told, those endorsements were said to be worth approximately $35 million. The scandal has also caused Armstrong to step down as the chairman of Livestrong, the cancer charity that he founded.
The meteoric fall from grace for Armstrong has been stunning to watch. For years he has been looked up to not only as a great athlete but also a paragon of sportsmanship, as well as an anti-cancer crusader. There has been other allegations of doping in the past, but Lance has always clung to the argument that he was the most tested athlete in the world and never failed a single test. What he did fail to point out however was that tests for EPO, the performance enhancing drugs that he is accused of taking, were not available in those early Tour de France wins. The USADA says that it has retroactively tested urine samples submitted by Armstrong from the 1999 race and that they have tested positive.
What happens next remains to be seen. With seven vacated Tour titles, it is unclear at this time if the wins will be given to another cyclist. Considering most of the riders that shared the podium with Armstrong have also tested positive over the years, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to declare a definitive winner. But the sport of cycling is trying to clean up its act and move forward as best it can. Doping has been a part of the sports culture for decades, although in this case it is tarnishing its biggest star.
Rehabilitating the sports reputation may prove to be a bigger challenge than cleaning up the riders who are currently competing. Fans of the sport have seen far too many of these scandals and for some, seeing Lance Armstrong go down, is likely to be the final nail in the coffin.
By Kraig Becker
[Photo credit: davelawrance.co.uk]