PARIS American rider Floyd Landis was banned for two years on Thursday after being found guilty of doping by a U.S. arbitration panel and will be stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said Landis, who will become the first Tour de France winner to be stripped of the race victory, had committed a doping violation in the sport's blue-riband event last year.
"As a result of his doping violation, Landis received a two-year suspension and forfeits his first-place finish in the 2006 Tour de France and all related prize money," USADA said in a statement.
Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), told Reuters by telephone that Oscar Pereiro, who finished second to Landis in 2006, would be the winner of the race.
"Under our regulations, Oscar Pereiro will be declared the winner of the 2006 Tour de France," said McQuaid.
Pereiro will be the first Spaniard to succeed since Miguel Indurain's last victory in 1995.
Landis, who tested positive for elevated testosterone levels, responded with a statement of his own, saying: "This ruling is a blow to athletes and cyclists everywhere.
"For the panel to find in favor of USADA when, with respect to so many issues, USADA did not manage to prove even the most basic parts of their case shows that this system is fundamentally flawed. I am innocent, and we proved I am innocent," the 31-year-old added.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme welcomed the verdict, telling Reuters: "It is anything but a surprise for us.
"We said in August 2006 that we no longer considered Floyd Landis as the winner of the Tour.
"We fully trusted the laboratory, so after the B sample analysis confirmed the A sample's we had no doubt at all."
After lengthy deliberations following a USADA hearing in May, a panel of arbitration experts decided by a majority verdict that Landis had injected himself with testosterone.
Two of them found the rider guilty, one ruled he was innocent.
The American can still take the matter before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Maurice Suh, Landis's lawyer, said in a statement: "The majority panel's decision is a disappointment but particularly so because it failed to address the joint impact of the many errors that the laboratory committed in rendering this false positive.
"To take each of these errors singly is to ignore the total falsity of the result.
"The majority panel has disregarded the testimony of Mr. Landis's experts, who are pre-eminent in their respective fields, without analyzing the impact of the errors on the final result. This is a miscarriage of justice."
Travis Tygart, USADA's chief executive officer, told Reuters: "This is another sad example of the crisis of character plaguing some of today's athletes, which undermines the honest accomplishments of the overwhelming majority of athletes who compete with integrity.
"But justice prevails and justice has been served."
Landis tested positive for elevated testosterone to epitestosterone ratios after his victory on stage 17 of last year's Tour. Testosterone can speed up recovery after exercise and improves stamina and strength.
He tested positive after an astounding comeback in the final mountain stage which came a day after a poor performance had all but knocked him out of contention.
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina)