Still, the head of the sport’s governing body said cycling can succeed despite the doubts of many, including anti-doping leaders who on Tuesday called for Armstrong-era officials to be removed.
“By the decisions we have taken it has given us the moral authority,” UCI President Pat McQuaid told The Associated Press after his group accepted the sanctions that stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and all other race results since August 1998.
Skeptics insist that the UCI protected Armstrong from scrutiny for many years, and was reluctantly forced to disown him by a devastating report published this month by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Across 1,000 pages of evidence, the report detailed how Armstrong’s teams used and trafficked banned drugs — coercing some teammates into the conspiracy — to dominate the Tour from 1999-2005.
“We really had no option but to make the decision we made,” McQuaid said.
McQuaid’s denunciation Monday that Armstrong “deserves to be forgotten in cycling” was surprisingly strong after the UCI had previously backed Armstrong’s failed legal fight to deny USADA jurisdiction in the case.
“We haven’t tried to find a way to defend an icon in our sport — we’ve accepted reality,” he told the AP. “We’ve accepted the facts and the facts are there.
“I’m a pragmatic person and I believe no matter how bad the situation might be, you take the decision you have to take and move forward from there.
“The sport has to take what it can from this and use it as a means to convince athletes that there’s no future in doping,” McQuaid said.
A day after Armstrong was stripped of his Tour titles, former teammate Steffen Kjaergaard acknowledged using banned performance-enhancing drugs.
The 39-year-old Norwegian, who has since retired, said Tuesday he had used EPO and cortisone. He was immediately suspended from his job at the Norwegian Cycling Federation.
But five-time Tour champion Miguel Indurain said he believes in Armstrong, saying the entire case was “bizarre” since Armstong never tested positive for doping.
“It is strange they take away his Tours because of the testimonies of some teammates,” said Indurain, a Spaniard who won the Tour from 1991-95.
Armstrong has lost a slew of sponsors over the scandal, and even Dutch bank Rabobank has pulled out as a team sponsor. However, some Tour de France backers said Tuesday they would stick with the race.
“We don’t sponsor a team or an individual, we sponsor a sporting event that each year attracts great public enthusiasm,” said Pierre Baillot, the spokesman of French bank LCL, which sponsors the race leader’s yellow jersey.
“The wider public knows how to draw a distinction” between the jersey and the wearer.