PARIS — There was an Armstrong who walked on the moon and another, Louis, who sang sweet jazz. But Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner?
That never happened.
"He deserves to be forgotten in cycling," the sport's boss, Pat McQuaid, said Monday as he erased Armstrong's victories from the record books of the race that made him a global celebrity.
It felt — and was — truly momentous. The crash-landing in a spectacular plunge from grace. The moment of impact between the truth and years of lies. Official acceptance — first from the head of cycling's governing body, then from the boss of the Tour — that the fairytale of a cancer survivor who won the world's most storied bicycle race was, in fact, the biggest fraud in the history of sport.
"A landmark day for cycling," McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union, said at a news conference in Geneva. "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling."
In Paris, at another press call, Tour director Christian Prudhomme added: "Lance Armstrong is no longer the winner of the Tour de France from 1999-2005."
Sports stars have imploded before. There were Marion Jones' tears outside a U.S. District Court in 2007 after the three-time Olympic champion pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about her use of performance-enhancing drugs. There are dark stains of doping on plenty of other big names, past and present, in other sports, too. Sports and doping have long gone together, because as long as people are trying to win, there'll always be some who will do that by cheating.
But no sporting icon peddled a tale quite like Armstrong's: the Texan from a broken home who became a world champion, then was struck down by testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, but who still rolled up in 1999 at the Tour, a three-week test so tough that it has defeated many men who didn't endure gut-wrenching chemotherapy and carry the scars of tumor-removing surgery.
The previous year, 1998, had been a disaster for the Tour — with a major drug bust and police raids at the race. Armstrong — bold, brash and, as it turned out, unbeatable — seemed a year later like a fresh start. His back-from-the-dead story brought new interest and life for cycling, and the Tour that had been sickened by riders' rampant use of a banned blood-booster, EPO, then undetectable. For other people affected by the disease he survived, Armstrong became the living embodiment of the idea that willpower can overcome any obstacle — be it cancer or the Alps.
"I hope this sends out a fantastic message to all the cancer patients and survivors around the world," Armstrong said on winning his first Tour, setting the tone and framing his story for the years to come. "We can return to what we were before — and be even better."
Armstrong was, in short, a survivor and a winner. That combination made him appear like a monument to many, both in and outside cycling. It made him rich, friendly with presidents and pop stars, and enabled his Livestrong cancer-fighting foundation to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. It also gave him influence and a moral high ground he used to silence and belittle critics who dared to suggest he was doping, that his story was too good to be true.
"I've done too many good things for too many people," Armstrong said in own defense in 2010.
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