Why There May Be No Official Winner of the Tour de France From 1999 to 2005

Lance Armstrong. Photo: PoweriPics/Flickr

"Twenty of the 21 podium finishers in the Tour de France from 1999 through 2005 have been directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations or exceeding the UCI hematocrit threshold. Of the 45 podium finishes during the time period between 1996 and 2010, 36 were by riders similarly tainted by doping." USADA Reasoned Decision Against Lance Armstrong

When news outlets, including Outside, published articles on the recent United States Anti-Doping Agency's report on Lance Armstrong, one of the most referenced lines was a stat: 20 out of the 21 podium finishers had been directly tied to "likely doping." The obvious question was, Who was the one person not tied to "likely doping"?

I emailed and called the USADA to get an answer, but haven't heard back. They are understandably busy. So, I did the next most obvious and slightly more time-consuming thing. I went back through news reports and the Tour de France standings to see who the 21st man might be.

A number of news organizations already played the same game. The New York Times made a graphic showing those Tour de France podium finishers officially linked to doping. The only three podium finishers from 1999 to 2005 without mugshots on the graphic were Fernando Escartin (Spain), Joseba Beloki (Spain), and Andreas Kloden (Germany). The Telegraph made a list of the podium finishers from 1999 to 2005 and the only two finishers they had without notes on doping were Escartin and Kloden. The Associated Press made a similar list that lacked doping notes on those two same riders.

Beloki was involved in the Operacion Puerto investigation. The fact that he racked up three podium finishes means he can't be the lone podium placement mentioned by the USADA. News articles on both Escartin and Kloden show that suspicions have been raised on their possible doping as well. Escartin was believed to be a client of Dr. Michele Ferrari. Kloden was connected to a doping scandal at Freiburg University in 2006. In August of this year, the German National Anti-Doping Agency expressed interest in investigating whether he and two other riders were doping.

So who is the podium finisher the USADA can't tie to "likely doping"? We may not find out for a bit, though, eventually, even more names may be added to their list. Yahoo News took the step of determining who the Tour de France winners might be based on a lack of doping suspicions. None of the athletes they selected between 1999 and 2005 finished in the top three spots. In one year, they decided the top spot would go to a 10th place finisher. Their hard work, or any judgment from the USADA on who did or didn't dope from 1999 to 2005 in the Tour de France, may not matter. Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, said the USADA's report is so "damning" and raises such doubts about "a system and an era" that if Lance Armstrong's titles are stripped, no one will be designated the official winner.

Right now, the USADA's report is with the UCI and they will make a decision on the next action. If they decide they don't want to strip Armstrong of his titles, there will likely be a fight with the USADA. If they do agree to strip his titles, the conclusion will likely be something many people have already come to terms with: During this period in cycling there were no clear winners.

I've listed the top three podium finishers from 1999 to 2005, with links to news articles about their official and suspected ties to doping.

1999: Lance Armstrong, USA
"On Wednesday, at last, the image crystallized: Armstrong was the ringleader, ruthless enforcer, and prime beneficiary of what USADA’s Travis Tygart called 'the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.' As ESPN’s Bonnie Ford put it: 'After today, anyone who remains unconvinced simply doesn’t want to know.'" Outside

Alex Zulle, Switzerland
"His 1998 team, Festina, was ousted from the Tour that year in connection with the widespread use of the performance-enhancing drug EPO. Zulle later admitted to using the blood-booster over the four previous years. The Festina affair nearly derailed the 1998 Tour, and is widely seen as the first big doping scandal to jolt cycling." The Telegraph

Fernando Escartin, Spain
"Escartin was a frequent client of Michele Ferrari, although the Spaniard never tested positive." Yahoo News

2000: Lance Armstrong, USA

Jan Ullrich, Germany
"After a prolonged delay, Jan Ullrich, the German who won the 1997 Tour de France, was suspended by a sports appeal body for two years Thursday for blood doping. Because Ullrich retired from racing five years ago, the penalty imposed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport is largely symbolic." The New York Times

Joseba Beloki, Spain
"Implicated in Operation Puerto, he retired in 2007. He was reportedly was cleared by a Spanish court of any involvement in the case." The Associated Press

2001: Lance Armstrong, USA  

Jan Ullrich, Germany

Joseba Beloki, Spain

2002: Lance Armstrong, USA

Joseba Beloki, Spain

Raimondas Rumsas, Lithuania
"Raimondas Rumsas, the Lithuanian who finished third in last year's Tour de France amid allegations of banned-drug use, was yesterday in the center of another storm after testing positive en route to sixth place in the Giro d'Italia last month. His team, Lampre, did not name the substance involved, but anti-doping sources in Rome said the notorious blood-booster erythropoietin (EPO) had been found after Stage 6. Rumsas's sample will in any case be tested a second time. 'He has really messed us around,' said his team manager Giuseppe Saronni last night. 'We all feel betrayed, all of us who have tried to put last year behind us.'" The Guardian

2003: Lance Armstrong, USA

Jan Ullrich, Germany

Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan
Alexander Vinokourov has been fired by the Astana team following his positive test for blood doping on the Tour de France, the team announced Monday. 'Astana cycling team received confirmation that Alexander Vinokourov's B sample was 'non negative,' the Swiss team backed by Kazakh companies said in a statement. 'Consequently, the Kazakh rider has been fired by Astana cycling team with immediate effect.' Vinokourov tested positive for homologous blood doping, a method using the blood from another person, following his victory in a time trial in Albi on July 21." The New York Times

2004: Lance Armstrong, USA

Andreas Kloden, Germany
"The German National Anti Doping Agency has expressed interest in investigating whether Andreas Klöden, Patrik Sinkewitz and Matthias Kessler used illegal doping products or methods. It has asked to see the files from prosecutors in Freiburg, Germany. Those prosecutors recently closed an investigation into doctors Lothar Heinrich and Andreas Schmitt, who, while associated with the Freiburg University Clinic, were also team doctors for Team Telekom/T-Mobile. There was said to be 'no sufficient suspicion of concrete violations of criminal provisions.' However, it also said that it was 'verifiable' that those three riders were involved in blood doping in 2006." Cycling News

Ivan Basso, Italy
"Ivan Basso has been handed the maximum two-year doping ban at an Italian cycling federation hearing. The 29-year-old acknowledged his involvement in the Spanish blood-doping scandal known as Operation Puerto and pleaded for a lenient penalty. He admitted to 'attempted doping' but insisted he did not go through with it. But the Italian cycling federation has decided to punish the Italian with the full two years, as requested by the International Cycling Union." BBC

2005: Lance Armstrong, USA

Ivan Basso, Italy

Jan Ullrich, Germany

—Joe Spring

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