August 23, 2005

Tour winner Armstrong hit by doping allegations

By Patrick Vignal

PARIS (Reuters) - Seven-times Tour de France winner Lance
Armstrong has denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs
following a report in French newspaper L'Equipe that he used
the blood-boosting drug EPO in 1999.

Tour de France executive director Jean-Marie Leblanc said
he felt let down by Armstrong after L'Equipe alleged the
American had used the banned drug in 1999, the year he first
won the world's greatest cycle race.

Armstrong, who recovered from testicular cancer to become
the most successful rider in the Tour's history, has been
forced to rebut several doping allegations during his career
and he repeated on Tuesday that his sporting successes were

"I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have
never taken performance-enhancing drugs," the 33-year-old, who
retired in July, said in a statement on his personal website.

L'Equipe, saying it had access to laboratory documents,
reported on Tuesday that six of Armstrong's urine samples
collected on the 1999 Tour de France showed "indisputable"
traces of EPO (erythropoietin).

L'Equipe published what it claimed to be a results sheet
from the lab which appeared to show six figures revealing
traces of EPO. The newspaper also published documents from the
French cycling federation showing exactly the same figures
under Armstrong's name.

The Chatenay-Malabry lab said in a statement that the
samples they tested did not have names attached and they could
not confirm if any of the samples were Armstrong's.


The lab said all test results had been sent to WADA, the
agency in charge of the fight against doping in world sport, on
the condition they did not use them to take disciplinary

Despite the lack of proof and Armstrong's denials, cycling
officials expressed disappointment.

"I remain cautious and slightly circumspect but this is
troubling and I feel disappointment inside me, like many sports
lovers must do," Leblanc told French radio station RTL

Asked if he felt let down by Armstrong, Leblanc said.

International Cycling Union (UCI) president Hein Verbruggen
told Reuters: "We have to wait and see if this is true.

"Only then will we be able to ask ourselves whether there
should be any legal action and whether this is a further blow
for cycling.

"I have to say this is not pleasant but, for the moment, it
only involves Lance Armstrong and France."

There were no tests to detect EPO, a drug that increases
the level of red blood cells and endurance, in 1999.

However, samples from the 1999 Tour were kept and have been
recently retested by the specialist anti-doping laboratory in
Chatenay-Malabry outside Paris.

The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA)-accredited lab, which
developed the test to detect EPO, started retesting last year
samples that had been taken between 1998 and 1999 and frozen.
The new tests were part of a scientific research programme.


Despite being in a class of his own in recent years,
Armstrong could never win over French fans or journalists. "LA
Confidential," a book on his life containing accusations of
doping, was published on the eve of the 2004 Tour.

The leader of the U.S. Postal team, which became the
Discovery Channel team this year, he lost a Paris court case in
2004 when his request that the controversial book should
include his denial of drug-taking was turned down.

"To all the cynics, I'm sorry for you," Armstrong said
after his final Tour triumph in July. "I'm sorry you can't
believe in miracles. This is a great sporting event and hard
work wins it."

Armstrong said in his statement of denial on Tuesday:
"Unfortunately, the witch hunt continues and (L'Equipe's)
article is nothing short of tabloid journalism.

"The paper even admits in its own article that the science
in question here is faulty and that I have no way to defend

"They state: 'There will therefore be no counter-exam nor
regulatory prosecutions, in a strict sense, since (the)
defendant's rights cannot be respected."'

The American retired after winning his record seventh Tour
de France in July. Before winning his first Tour in 1999,
Armstrong won a battle against testicular cancer, undergoing
two operations and four bouts of chemotherapy.

Since retiring the Texan has concentrated on supporting the
fight against cancer, pressing President Bush to boost spending
on research.