"It's time to consider letting Lance out of 'time-out'," says Scott Mercier...

A former team-mate of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong says the rider who cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories should get those titles back.

Scott Mercier and Armstrong were on the US team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. 

After a solid career on the North American circuit, Mercier joined the US Postal team, but left in 1997 after realising that the only way he could compete in Europe was to take performance-enhancing drugs.

He went on to run a restaurant with his father in Hawaii and then took a job as a financial advisor in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Armstrong joined US Postal the following year after recovering from cancer, and won his first Tour de France in 1999.

After a lengthy investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in 2012.

But Mercier says Armstrong should be given a second chance.

"It's time to consider letting Lance out of 'time-out'," he told BBC Sport's Matt Slater.

"He is a polarising figure and always will be, but I believe he can be a catalyst for good; not just for cycling, but especially for those who suffer from cancer," he said.

In recent years Mercier and Armstrong have forged an unlikely friendship.

In a BBC interview last week Armstrong told Dan Roan that Mercier was a "great example" of someone who had left cycling with his integrity undamaged.

Armstrong said: "He's somebody I raced with before, during, and after. And he's one of my closest friends now, so Scott and I have these conversations all the time."

Mercier thinks American cyclists such as Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton have shouldered a disproportionate amount of the blame for the doping of a generation of cyclists.

Hamilton, he points out, was stripped of his 2004 Olympic gold medal after confessing to doping, but that medal went to Viatcheslav Ekimov, the Russian who  had been one of Armstrong's right-hand-men at US Postal.

"This drug usage did not start with the Americans - it was part of the culture long before the Yankees invaded," Mercier said.

"The Europeans have gotten a far easier ride than our riders.

"It's time to be honest, it may be painful, but I believe honesty and transparency are the best path forward.

"In my mind, Tyler is the gold medallist from 2004 and Lance Armstrong the winner of seven Tours of France."

And he doesn't think Armstrong deserves to be more harshly punished for forcing his team-mates to use performance-enhancing drugs.

"No-one forced me to leave, I left of my own free will," he said, adding that Armstrong's sponsors cannot claim to be "victims" either because "they got their money's worth" in publicity.

Mercier seems to believe Armstrong has genuinely changed.

"I was never much of a Team Lance fan," he said.

"I knew he was lying and his arrogance and boorish behaviour made me cringe.

"However, my issue with him was never about his performance. He was, quite simply, the best of his generation and is one of the fiercest competitors the world has ever seen.

"He says if there was anything he could change, it would be the way he treated people. I believe him. I've seen the way he treats people today and it's with humility and grace."

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.