More than half of the winners of the Tour de France who are still alive believe that Lance Armstrong should be reinstated as winner of the seven editions of the race between 1999 and 2005.
All but two of the surviving 25 champions responded to a poll by Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, which asked them whether the American, banned for life in 2012 and stripped of his seven victories, should have them given back to him, reports Telegraph.co.uk.
Tour de France organisers ASO now show a blank space in the list of winners of the race for the seven editions where Armstrong stood on the top step of the podium in Paris, declining to award the victories to the runners-up, almost all of whom have been sanctioned for doping at some point.
Among those who said Armstrong should be reinstated was Ireland’s Stephen Roche, who won the yellow jersey in 1987, the same year he won the Giro d’Italia and world championship.
He said: “Armstrong should stay on that list [of winners]. 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?"
Older riders tended to believe that Armstrong should be given the titles back, while those who won the race more recently said he should not, including the winners of the last three editions – Cadel Evans, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, who said: "Those seven empty places symbolise an era. We should leave it like it is."
There were exceptions though, with Oscar Pereiro, champion in 2006, and Andy Schleck, awarded the 2010 victory when Alberto Contador was stripped of it in 2012, the only two winners from recent years to say that Armstrong should be viewed as winner of those seven editions.
Schleck said: “Who remembers who was second place in those races? I wouldn't know myself. You can't have seven races without a winner, so just leave Armstrong on the list."
Other riders who backed the former US Postal rider’s reinstatement included Felice Gimondi, Jan Janssen and Joop Zoetemelk, who said: "They should never have erased Armstrong from the list. You can't change results 10 years later. Of course it's not good what he did but you can't rewrite history."
Race director Christian Prudhomme made it clear that ASO would not be reconsidering its position. "You ask the people along the route," he explained. "It's clear, his name will not be on the list again. Period."
When in October 2012 former UCI president Pat McQuaid ratified the sanctions imposed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, he opened the press conference by saying, “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling.”
He too seems to have changed his view, telling journalists at the Tour de France on Tuesday’s rest day, “I don't necessarily think the same now. Armstrong is the victim of a USADA witch hunt" – words used repeatedly by Armstrong’s own defence team until he finally confessed in January last year.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.