The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) want to strip Armstrong of his titles and ban him from competitive cycling after the seven-times Tour winner said he would no longer fight the doping charges brought by them. “I’ve ended my career and I have always said that I’m proud of my second places,” said Ullrich, runner-up to Armstrong in 2000, 2001 and 2003. “It doesn’t really bother me that much.”
Ullrich, Tour champion in 1997, was himself found guilty of doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in February, in relation to the Operation Puerto blood-doping scandal that engulfed cycling six years ago. He was banned for two years and CAS annulled his results from 2005 until his retirement two years later.
The other riders to finish second to Armstrong were Alex Zuelle of Switzerland (1999), Spain’s Joseba Beloki (2002), German Andreas Kloeden (2004) and Italian Ivan Basso (2005). Zuelle was part of the Festina team thrown out of the 1998 Tour after team manager Bruno Roussel confessed the existence of “an organised doping system.” Basso was banned for two years in 2007 for his involvement in Operation Puerto. Meanwhile, Alberto Contador declined to comment on the possibility of Armstrong being stripped of his titles, and instead paid tribute to his former team-mate’s skill on the bike. Contador, who hesitantly partnered Armstrong during the first year of the American’s comeback in 2009 with Astana, said he had kept his distance from the case.
“I’m not up to date on the case. Whenever I’m competing at a major race I try to keep these things to the margin and stay completely focused on the race,” Contador said before the start of the seventh stage of the Spanish Vuelta. “I don’t know if it’s over or not. The truth is I’m not thinking about it.”
Contador and Armstrong were bitter team-mates, with Contador eventually emerging as the team No 1 on his way to winning the Tour that season. Armstrong, who came third, moved to Radioshack the next season. Still, the Spanish cyclist, who was stripped of his 2010 Tour win because of drug charges, was polite in describing the 40-year-old’s abilities on the bike after having once described their relationship as “zero.”
“I think he was a cyclist who always showed such strength, great intelligence and spectacular physical conditioning,” said Contador.
Few cyclists wanted to comment on Armstrong’s case before the start of yesterday’s Vuelta leg, with 2002 Tour runner-up Beloki refusing to say anything despite the possibility of winning the title if Armstrong is formally stripped.