— PARIS (AP) — Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme no longer considers Lance Armstrong a seven-time winner of the world's most prestigious cycling race, one which now hopes to finally shake off years of doping scandals.
Speaking shortly after cycling's governing body ratified the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour titles, Prudhomme welcomed the decision, reiterating his belief that there should be no new champions declared for the seven Tours that Armstrong had won.
"It's without surprise that we received today's news, it's totally logical. Lance Armstrong is no longer the winner of the Tour de France from 1999-2005," Prudhomme said at the Paris headquarters of ASO, which owns the race. "We wish that there is no winner for this period. For us, very clearly, the titles should remain blank. Effectively, we wish for these years to remain without winners."
Armstrong also finished third in the 2009 Tour in his comeback year, but the UCI has yet to say whether that podium place will be removed.
"In all logic, everything must disappear," Prudhomme said. "This is the story of a real talent who lost his way."
American rider Floyd Landis and Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador were stripped of their Tour titles in 2006 and 2010, respectively, for doping infractions, and their titles were given to Oscar Pereiro and Andy Schleck.
USADA, which published a damning 200-page report packed with testimonies from several of Armstrong's former teammates on the U.S. Postal team, says all of Armstrong's results dating back to August 1998 should be removed. The UCI was expected to meet Friday to further discuss what to do with the podium places from Armstrong's seven Tour wins, notably whether to move other riders up, the 2009 podium spot, and other race wins during his long career.
USADA and witness testimonies from former Postal teammates such as George Hincapie, Jonathan Vaughters, Frankie Andreu and Levi Leipheimer placed the cancer survivor as the focal point of the doping that went on inside the team.
"It's the system that's especially to blame," Prudhomme said. "We're in a mafia system that goes beyond doping and which goes beyond the name of sport ... this time it's a global crisis. Armstrong's aura touches everyone, everywhere in the world."
Prudhomme was evasive when asked if ASO — whose newspaper L'Equipe published a damning report into Armstrong's use of EPO on the '99 Tour only days after he'd completed his seventh Tour win — regretted welcoming Armstrong back on the race in 2009.
"At the time, we said Armstrong could come back if he submitted himself to the same rules as everyone else," Prudhomme said, also citing the improvement in anti-doping controls when the Texan made his comeback.
Still, Prudhomme is optimistic that the UCI's ratification of USADA's findings is a massive step forward for cycling.
"It's through difficulty that you can build things," he said. "Today's cycling has already changed from the past, but of course the UCI must learn all the lessons from the Armstrong case and how we arrived at this point."
Prudhomme said Armstrong's prize money from the seven Tours should also be reimbursed.
"The UCI rules are clear: when a rider loses his title, he must reimburse his winnings," Prudhomme said. "We would have preferred that none of this had happened."
After overcoming his illness, Armstrong returned to the Tour in '99 — the year after the showcase race had been rocked by the Festina doping scandal, which began when a large haul of doping products were found in a Festina team car just before the start of the race.
Ever since, and until very recently, the race has been scarred by doping.
On the eve of the 2006 Tour, several riders — including '97 winner Jan Ullrich and Italian contender Ivan Basso — were thrown out of the race after being caught up in the Operation Puerto blood doping scandal.
The next two years were even tougher, with Alexandre Vinokourov testing positive for blood doping in 2007 and then-leader Michael Rasmussen thrown out while in the race leader's yellow jersey only days before the end for lying about missed tests.
Then came the CERA scandal in 2008, when Italian rider Riccardo Ricco and Austrian climbing specialist Bernhard Kohl were among four riders caught using an advanced form of the blood booster EPO.
Armstrong returned the following year — on the Astana team that Vinokourov had ridden for in 2007 — and finished third at the age of 37.
"Riders get caught and they are going to know with Armstrong that those who cheat will get caught sooner or later," Prudhomme said. "But once again, it shouldn't only be the rider, the winner, it should also be the entourage."