French 'sour grapes': Americans to L'Equipe

24th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 23 (AFP) - A French newspaper's allegation Tuesday that seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong used a banned, endurance-boosting hormone in 1999 was met with a furious denial by the cyclist and scepticism in the United States.

PARIS, Aug 23 (AFP) - A French newspaper's allegation Tuesday that seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong used a banned, endurance-boosting hormone in 1999 was met with a furious denial by the cyclist and scepticism in the United States.

With a headline splashing "Armstrong's Lie" on its front page, the respected sports daily L'Equipe reported that Armstrong's use of the illegal blood booster EPO (erythropoeitin) was revealed in tests by a French laboratory of frozen urine samples taken during the 1999 Tour.

The 33-year-old American, who retired in July after coasting to his record seventh Tour title, wasted no time in dismissing the accusations.

"Yet again, a European newspaper has reported that I have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs," Armstrong said in a statement on his website. "Unfortunately the witch hunt continues and the article is nothing short of tabloid journalism. I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs."

The Discovery Channel team leader, a survivor of testicular cancer, has issued many previous such denials.

But his domination of the race since 1999, 18 months after he had recovered from cancer, has always aroused suspicion in France, which developed stringent anti-doping laws after the 1998 Tour was all but wrecked by doping scandals.

Americans reacted with scepticism to the report.

A Tuesday poll on ESPN's live news channel showed 72 percent of 56,821 of respondents said they did not think Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs while 28 percent said he did.

John Eustice, billed as ESPN's cycling analyst, ripped L'Equipe, saying: "I don't think it has very much credibility whatsoever. They just put it out there with no back-up. They have had an attitude (about Armstrong) and that in itself attacks its credibility."

Calling L'Equipe's report a "poor level approach to journalism", Eustice also questioned how samples six years later could be linked to Armstrong since they were given and stored anonymously.

"I think it's very much sour grapes," Eustice said, adding that the doping claim was being used to explain why French cyclists have been outclassed by Armstrong for so many years.

Another Armstrong supporter was Dave Chauner, director of the US Pro Cycling circuit in which Armstrong raced early in his career.

"Every sports icon is the target of accusation and innuendos. You will always have people ready to tear your down and tarnish your achievements. That's whats happening to Lance," said Chauner.

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Dick Pound said his group was looking into the doping claim.

"It's a pretty serious story if it is true," Pound told AFP. "We have not decided what we would do because I have not looked at all the details."

Pound said the issue was a matter for the International Cycling Union (UCI) and USA Cycling, noting that his agency had not yet been formed when the samples were taken.

"But ... it's a lesson to anybody using drugs that we may not catch you on day one, but sooner or later, the truth will come out. Now the riders involved have a serious responsibility to explain how it is that the substance got into the system," said Pound.

A cyclist testing positive today for EPO -- which can boost performance by 30 percent -- would be subject to WADA sanctions.

USA Cycling and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had no comment Tuesday on the report by L'Equipe.

USA Cycling spokesman Andy Lee said the national governing body for the sport would need more information before saying anything.

A spokesperson for USADA, which investigates and imposes punishments that would be carried out by US federations, also had no comment.

Tour de France chief Jean-Marie Leblanc said he was shocked by the report, in which L'Equipe said traces of EPO were found in Armstrong's 1999 urine samples by the national doping testing laboratory of Chatenay-Malabry near Paris.

According to the report, urine tests for EPO were not as advanced in 1999 as they are now, with more modern testing methods becoming common after 2000 at the Sydney Olympics and the 2001 Tour de France.

The urine samples, taken in 1998 and 1999, were tested in 2004, according to the report, without explaining the delay in revealing the results.

The newspaper said 12 samples had revealed EPO use, including six from Armstrong. It did not identify the other implicated cyclists.

"Of course it cannot be regarded as a positive test in the strict regulatory sense," the newspaper said, while adding that the findings could still have consequences.

Armstrong tested positive for drugs during the 1999 Tour de France but was cleared when his team, US Postal, produced a medical certificate showing that he used a cream to ease a pain on his saddle containing a banned corticosteroid.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Armstrong, cycling, Tour de France, doping, EPO, L'Equipe

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