Blazin' Saddles

Who really won the Tours de Lance?

Lance Armstrong celebrates his seventh Tour de France winTour de France director Christian Prudhomme has announced that he does not want Lance Armstrong's seven titles to be re-attributed in the wake of USADA's damning 1,000-page report.

By all intents and purposes it seems that Armstrong's seven Tour wins between 1999 and 2005 were accumulated largely thanks to a systematic doping ring that made the doctors of the Eastern bloc look like a bunch of interns at Boots.

At best, it has also been argued that the UCI effectively cast a blind eye at what was going on at Armstrong's US Postal team during the seven years following the Festina scandal of 1998.

Supposing Blazin' Saddles was unanimously voted in as the new UCI President to replace the faltering Verbruggen-McQuaid empire — who would your faithful cycling scribe feel comfortable to choose to retrospectively mount the podium in Paris during those turbulent years?

It's a tricky task, given the overwhelming number of riders from that era having failed doping tests during their careers or having been linked to the Festina and Operacion Puerto scandals...

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1999: Current podium

1. Lance Armstrong

2. Alex Zuelle

3. Fernando Escartin

Alternative winner: Daniele Nardello

The unheralded Italian classics specialist finished in seventh place more than 17 minutes behind Armstrong but was never involved in any doping scandal during his successful yet far from stellar career. Zuelle was dragged through the Festina dirt and so really should not have been riding the '99 Tour, while Escartin was a frequent client of Michele Ferrari, although the Spaniard never tested positive. Laurent Dufaux of Switzerland and Spaniards Angel Casero and Abrabam Olano — all of whom finished above Nardello — all either tested positive during the 90s or have admitted to doping during their careers.

Daniele Nardello

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2000: Current podium

1. Lance Armstrong

2. Jan Ullrich

3. Joseba Beloki

Alternative winner: Daniele Nardello

This time Nardello finished 10th in Paris but those above him are a veritable Who's Who of doping dastardliness: we're talking the likes of Christophe 'Morals' Moreau (Festina), Roberto 'Helas' Heras (EPO), Richard 'I didn't do it' Virenque (Festina), Santiago 'EPO Solero' Botero (Puerto), Escartin (see above) and Francisco 'Man & EPO' Mancebo (Puerto) — as well as Puerto-implicated runners-up Ullrich and Beloki: all in all, enough 3am blood-like-jam wake-up calls to revive Festina's flagging watch business.

Of course, virtual back-to-back wins for the little-known Italian might as well be a hat-trick: Nardello finished seventh in the 1998 Tour won by the late Marco Pantani — and those above him then were more or less about as crooked as one of Alpe d'Huez's famous hairpin bends. Heck, Nardello finished 18th in the 1997 Tour won by Ullrich — and even that may have been enough to see the Italian open up his account. Four-time Tour de France winner Daniele Nardello, eh?

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2001: Current podium

1. Lance Armstrong

2. Jan Ullrich

3. Joseba Beloki

Alternative winner: Andrei Kivilev

For the second successive year it's an identical podium in the Paris — and their training methods were probably pretty much identical too. Kazakhstan's Andrei Kivilev of Codifis was fourth on GC — and although his nationality, team (three years later Cofidis were rumbled for an internal doping programme and chucked off the Tour) and close friendship with a certain Alexandre Vinokourov all combine to send alarm bells ringing, there's no evidence to suggest that the late Kivilev was riding anything other than 'paniagua' (on bread and water). Kivilev was killed two years later after a crash in Paris-Nice. He would be remembered as the main catalyst for the UCI implementing the compulsory wearing of helmets — but not as a Tour de France winner.

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2002: Current podium

1. Lance Armstrong

2. Joseba Beloki

3. Raimondas Rumsas

Carlos SastreAlternative winner: Carlos Sastre

Like in 2000, you have to sink to lowly 10th place to find a worthy winner of this Tour. Alongside Armstrong on the podium were Puerto-implicated Beloki and the Lithuanian Rumsas, who not only got rumbled for EPO use in the 2003 Giro, he had to live with the psychological burden of having a mother-in-law hooked on a cocktail of corticosteroids, testosterone, growth hormones and anabolic steroids.

Sastre — who was separated from the podium by the likes of chancy Colombian Botero, iffy ONCE pair Gonzalez de Galdeano (failed test) and Azevedo (Puerto and Postal), suspect Spaniards Heras and Mancebo, not to mention self-confessed EPO engine Levi Leipheimer — is awarded the win, despite finishing more than 19 minutes down on the Texan. There would be a podium place for David Moncoutie too, who finished an unlucky 13th. Sastre won the Tour outright in 2008 — but evidence suggests he should well have opened his account much earlier.

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2003: Current podium

1. Lance Armstrong

2. Jan Ullrich

3. Alexandre Vinokourov

Alternative winner: Haimar Zubeldia

Like Armstrong, Jan 'Doping for Hair' Ullrich and Alexandre 'Blood Brother' Vinokourov have to be discounted, while we now all know about the antics of fourth-place Tyler Hamilton — who had joined CSC from US Postal — following his explosive book 'The Secret Race'. That would make fifth-place Spaniard Haimar Zubeldia, then of Euskaltel, the de facto 2003 winner, with Sastre standing alongside him on the virtual podium by virtue of the dodgy blood provenance of Iban Mayo (EPO), Ivan Basso (Puerto) and Christophe Moreau (Festina).

The fact that Hamilton was brought to CSC by Bjarne Riis to be a team leader underlines the extent that flagrant dopers were allowed to flourish in the peloton.

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2004: Current podium

1. Lance Armstrong

2. Andreas Kloeden

3. Ivan Basso

Alternative winner: Carlos Sastre

Ullrich became the first — and only — German winner of the Tour in 1997 but given what we know about his training habits, perhaps Andreas Kloeden should well have taken that accolade in 2004? Not so, given Kloedi's apparent degree of doping studies at the University of Fribourg that came to light in 2006.

Basso must be disqualified (merely because of his 'intention to dope', mind), while Azevedo (Puerto), Mancebo and Austrian journeyman Georg Totschnig (blood transfusion) were found to be riding on anything but Gerolsteiner fizzy water alone. That makes Sastre a virtual double winner of the Tour three years before he finally mounted the podium for good in 2008 — a sorry state of affairs for a dedicated rider who always gave it his all. With former team-mate Tyler Hamilton now at Phonak, Sastre's path at CSC was once again blocked by a "better prepared" rider — this time Basso.

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2005: Current podium

1. Lance Armstrong

2. Ivan Basso

3. Jan Ullrich

Cadel EvansAlternative winner: Cadel Evans

In 2011, Evans became the first Australian to ever win the Tour de France — a feat he could well have achieved in his debut Tour in 2005 were he not surrounded by men powered by enough orange juice to make the Man from Del Monte say "Yes! Yes! Yes!" for more than a decade.

Evans finished the race in eighth position almost 12 minutes down on Armstrong and was separated from the podium by MancEPO, VinEPO, 'Hay Fever' Levi and the not-so-free-range chicken, Michel Rasmussen (kicked off the 2007 Tour by his Rabobank team for "violating internal rules") . Before winning the race in 2011, Evans would finish second to Alberto Contador too...

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So, perhaps one day you'll be surfing through Wikipedia and you'll see a list containing this sequence: Nardello, Nardello, Kivilev, Sastre, Zubeldia, Sastre, Evans. More likely, however, you'll see a constantly changing series of DSQs, dashes and asterisks.