Cycling: Lance Armstrong's stripped Tour titles to stay vacant as UCI investigates cover-up claim

 

The seven Tour de France titles stripped from Lance Armstrong in cycling's "dark period" will not be re-awarded, the sport's governing body has decided.

The UCI has continued its belated attempt to address the fall-out from the US Anti-doping Agency's investigation into Armstrong's systematic doping by announcing it wanted the American to return all prize monies won in the period – over €3m (£2.41m) – and that it was setting up an independent inquiry into allegations made against them.

The UCI has decided the races between 1999 and 2005 will forever be without a winner as "a cloud of suspicion would remain hanging over this dark period." The difficulties in finding dope-free riders to replace Armstrong on the podium across the seven races made turning that era into wilderness years the only realistic option.

But the saga shows no signs of an imminent ending with the UCI setting up a commission to explore claims, among others, that it covered up a positive test on Armstrong in return for a payment of $100,000 (£62,000) – something they deny. It is not scheduled to report before June.

The setting up of an independent investigation will do little to immediately blunt criticism of the UCI's unconvincing handling of the affair as the governing body itself will play a part in determining the "appropriate terms of reference" for the inquiry. Much will depend on what those terms of reference are and the personnel involved.

The UCI management did announce the commission will be asked "to find ways to ensure that persons caught for doping were no longer able to take part in the sport, including as part of an entourage."

The final decision from yesterday's emergency meeting of the management committee was the suspension of legal action against former cyclist and journalist Paul Kimmage, who has accused the UCI of a cover-up over Armstrong.

Recovering prize money from Armstrong will be far from straightforward and may prove something of a symbolic gesture. The UCI is willing to assist the French cycling federation, the body that distributes prize money on behalf of the Tour organisers, in any attempts to get the money back. A more pressing financial threat for Armstrong will come from SCA, an American insurance company preparing a $12m lawsuit over bonuses it was forced to pay him following a court case six years ago.

The UCI described their announcement yesterday as "decisive" and "critical". Neither its president, Pat McQuaid, nor Hein Verbruggen, honorary president and his predecessor, will step down.

"We will take whatever actions are deemed necessary by the independent commission and we will put cycling back on track," said McQuaid. "We have listened to the world's reaction to the Lance Armstrong affair and have taken these additional decisive steps in response to the grave concerns raised."

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