Pundits question Armstrong's revenge plan

7th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, Sept 6 (AFP) - Lance Armstrong's possible comeback in quest of an eighth consecutive Tour de France triumph had US television sports pundits wondering what the American cycling legend still had to prove.

WASHINGTON, Sept 6 (AFP) - Lance Armstrong's possible comeback in quest of an eighth consecutive Tour de France triumph had US television sports pundits wondering what the American cycling legend still had to prove.

Armstrong said allegations of doping raised by the French sports daily L'Equipe over what they claim are EPO-positive urine samples from Armstrong's 1999 Tour triumph have prodded him into reconsidering his retirement plan.

"The recent smear campaign out of France has awoken my competitive side," Armstrong said in a statement released Tuesday. "I'm not willing to put a percentage on the chances but I will no longer rule it out."

Armstrong told his hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, that he wanted to win again because it would annoy the French.

"I'm thinking it's the best way to piss (the French) off," the Austin American-Statesman quoted Armstrong as saying.

Armstrong told the newspaper he had been thinking about a comeback for only the past two weeks, since French sports daily L'Equipe reported on August 23 that urine samples taken from Armstrong in 1999 during his first Tour triumph tested positive for the banned substance EPO.

"If irritating the French is his only goal, he might succeed," wrote Phil Hersh, a Chicago Tribune columnist. "The problem is Armstrong can prove nothing by competing again, whether he wears the winner's yellow jersey for an eighth straight time or not. And regaining his high profile as an athlete in a high-profile event only will keep alive a controversy his legions of adoring fans already have written off as yellow journalism."

The Texan has vehemently denied taking any performance-enhancing drugs however a number of experts and former employees have come out of the woodwork to denounce the Texan champion.

ESPN sports television commentators found Armstrong's return a hot topic Tuesday, with Tony Kornheiser doubting that even another Tour de France victory by Armstrong will silence critics.

"If Lance Armstrong does come back, he will be tested 10 times a day," said Kornheiser. "This will happen again and again and even if he wins again it won't prove anything to his doubters, most of whom work at L'Equipe."

Kornheiser, also a Washington Post newspaper columnist, also questioned Armstrong's anger at the French people as opposed to the newspaper and his desire to return because of a newspaper story.

"He was steadfast. All of a sudden he's back because he's mad at L'Equipe? Come on," Kornheiser said, adding, "If he hates the French so much why did he suppoprt the French bid for the (2012) Olympics?"

Columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, speaking on another show, backed Armstrong's move and asked, "Why not put it in the face of everybody who says he is not clean?"

"He has every right to defend his reputation," said columnist Jackie MacMullan of the Boston Globe. "The only way to prove to the French all this is taken care of is to go back there and win this race again."

Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti wondered "Why would he want to put himself back through Lance-mania? He has nothing left to prove. He has done all he can in cycling."

Mariotti also summed up the feelings of many US onlookers regarding the latest doping revelation about Armstrong by saying, "They could keep sabotaging him."

Hersh does not dismiss the L'Equipe claims out of hand as many US columnists have, suggesting that Armstrong would find more success with a legal fight instead of another three weeks of pedaling around France.

"His presence in the 2006 race would have no more impact on the debate than his repeated denials of ever having used banned drugs or his having had no positive drug tests after 1999," Hersh wrote. "As the Ben Johnson and BALCO cases should have made abundantly clear, it is not hard to beat drug testing.

"Armstrong won't shake the story by dragging it with him around France for three weeks, when each account of the race undoubtedly will focus on his reasons for being there. He would be wiser to try to exact vengeance in the courts," said Hersh.

Asked how serious he was about another Tour, Armstrong replied: "I'm exercising every day."

Armstrong retired in July after winning his seventh straight Tour de France but expectations of relaxing holidays with his three kids and his new fiancée, rock star Sheryl Crow, have been tempered by the spate of doping allegations.

"He (Armstrong) got back on the bike to train three weeks after the end of the Tour de France. He follows the team's progress closely and it's sure that he's still hungry for success," said Johan Bruyneel, the 33-year-old Armstrong's team manager at Discovery Channel. Bruyneel admitted that nothing concrete had been decided but the door was still open for a return.

Bruyneel, who has orchestrated Armstrong's career since the American returned to cycling after his successful recovery from cancer in 1998, suggested Armstrong simply missed racing.

"There will always be a place on the team for him, if he decides to come back. Anyway, he's still under contract with us till the end of 2006," said Bruyneel.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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