Tour de France champs defend Lance Armstrong

Last updated 15:07 17/07/2014
Lance Armstrong
TRUE CHAMPION?: Twelve former Tour de France champions believe Lance Armstrong should be handed back his titles despite his serial doping offences.

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Twelve former Tour de France winners believe disgraced star Lance Armstrong should be handed back his seven titles from cycling's biggest race.

As the current tour winds on, Britain's Telegraph newspaper polled the 25 surviving winners of the event.

They got responses from 23 of them and 12 believe the American should be reinstated into history books despite his serial doping offences.

Armstrong was stripped of his titles after a long-running investigation exposed him and he subsequently confessed to what the United States Anti-Doping Agency described "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen".

"Armstrong should stay on that list," said Ireland's Stephen Roche, who won the Tour in 1987.

"In the 100-year history of the race you can't not have a winner for seven years. Doping has been part of sport, not only for cycling, for decades. Who tells me Jacques Anquetil won clean. Should we take his victories away? Or why does Richard Virenque get to keep his polka dot jerseys?"

Sympathy for Armstrong was strongest amongst the older generation of winners.

 "They should never have erased Armstrong from the list. You can't change results 10 years on. Of course it's not good what he did but you can't rewrite history," 1980 winner Joop  Zoetemelk said.

But 2010 winner Andy Schleck was another in favour of Armstrong returning to favour.

"Who remembers who was second in those races? I wouldn't know myself. You can't have seven races without a winner, so just leave Armstrong on the list," Schleck said.

British winners Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins have been outspoken on the issue. Like Australian Cadel Evans, they are adamant the Armstrong years (1999-2005) should serve as a reminder to current riders.

"Those seven empty places symbolise an era. We should leave it like it is," Froome said.

Armstrong, 42, finds no sympathy with the tour organisers with tour director Christian Prudhomme telling the Telegraph that public opinion would not allow his titles being reinstated.

"You ask the people along the route," he said. "It's clear, his name will not be on the list again. Period."

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