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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Cycling News Special Edition for August 25, 2005

Edited by Jeff Jones

Armstrong calls Leblanc remarks "preposterous"

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

While in Washington, D.C. on a previously planned visit to his sponsor Discovery Channel's headquarters, Lance Armstrong responded Wednesday to comments from Tour De France boss Jean-Marie Leblanc that suggest the seven-time champion "fooled" race officials and the sporting world by doping. "To say that I've fooled the fans is preposterous. I've been doing this a long time. We have not just one year of only 'B' samples; we have seven years of 'A' and 'B' samples. They've all been negative."

Armstrong revealed he spoke to Leblanc earlier on Wednesday, saying, "I actually spoke to him for about 30 minutes and he didn't say any of that stuff to me personally." Reviewing the situation, Armstrong also brought into question the validity of testing urine samples frozen in 1999 and how samples were handled since, saying that officials at the French lab may have violated World Anti-Doping Agency rules by failing to safeguard the anonymity of "B" samples.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that they have samples", said Armstrong. "Clearly they've tested all of my samples since then to the highest degree. But when I gave those samples," (in 1999), "there was not EPO in those samples. I guarantee that."

Armstrong blasted french sports daily L'Equipe, saying that "Obviously, this is great business for (L'Equipe). Unfortunately, I'm caught in the cross-hairs. I think they've been planning (this story) for a while. I think they much would have preferred to have done this at start of the Tour, or the middle, but for some reason, it was delayed. At the end of day, I think that's what it's all about...selling newspapers. And, it sells."

Reviewing his options, Armstrong explained he was considering legal action to find out who leaked the confidential paperwork that linked his 1999 "B" sample to his name. "(Legal action) would cost a million and a half dollars and a year of my life. I have a lot better things to do with the million and a half...a lot better things I can do with my time. Ultimately, I have to ask myself that question."

L'Equipe doping story opens can of worms

Ethics and privacy ignored in French report

No entry to the lab: did L'Equipe cross the line in connecting stored samples to riders?
Click for larger image

The recent allegations against Lance Armstrong raise two questions: how can the French newspaper prove the samples belong to any particular rider, and who are the other six riders? Only identifying the American fuels suspicion that it is a Euro-chauvinistic witch-hunt. Tim Maloney reports.

The unprecedented allegations about EPO use by Lance Armstrong in the 1999 Tour de France published in French sports newspaper L'Equipe this week have caused huge repercussions in the world of cycling. Reached at his hotel in Granada, Spain as he prepared for the start of the Vuelta a España Saturday, Discovery Channel team sports director Johan Bruyneel told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview that, "It's clear that this is a witch hunt. We know that there are people out there who would do anything to get Lance."

Bruyneel claimed the allegations in L'Equipe were completely false. "Another issue here is that the code of ethics, the proper protocols were not followed properly in this matter," he said. "The only purpose is to damage Lance's image. Normally, a matter like this is handled via the correct organs of the sport, not just published in a newspaper with leaked information. But we've been through all of this before, so many accusations. So it's not a surprise. We're used to it."

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"No evidence of EPO" during Vaughters time at Postal

Jon Vaughters & Lance Armstrong just before the 1999 Tour
Photo ©: AFP
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Jonathan Vaughters was a team-mate of Lance Armstrong on the US Postal team during the 1999 Tour de France. In the light of L'Equipe's allegations that Armstrong used EPO during that Tour, Vaughters tells Gerard Knapp what he did - and didn't - see.

It was two weeks before the 1999 Tour de France, and a young American rider asked his director sportif if he had anything to worry about.

The US Postal Service rider - and team-mate of Lance Armstrong - was nervous. Jonathan Vaughters said he had watched the whole Festina debacle of the previous Tour de France, and he didn't want to spend a week in a French gaol if the police carried out sweeping raids on the peloton and arrested riders based on circumstantial evidence.

"I was this skinny guy," he said this week. "I didn't want to end up being the girlfriend of some gendarme," he told Cyclingnews.

"I was thinking back (to that time) and I remember I could feel that we (USPS) were going to be real contenders for the Tour. So I called Johan (Bruyneel) and asked him if there was anything I should be worried about. He assured me and said, 'we're not going to be doing any of that (doping)'. Basically, he said there was none of that (in the team). There would be nothing to worry about."

Still, it was Vaughters himself who received a fright at the pre-Tour medical tests, as his hematocrit posted a 51 percent reading, above the UCI's limit of 50 percent, but still under his special dispensation of 52 percent. (Frequent testing had shown that Vaughters - like many good climbers - have naturally high hematocrit levels and they are granted dispensation from doctors.)

"I'd never tested (at a race) above 50 percent, except before the start of the '99 Tour," he said. "I told the team doctor 'don't worry, I've got a certificate, I've got a hall-pass for this'," he recalled. "But the doctor said it wasn't me they were worried about, it was that the whole team was very close (to the 50 percent limit)."

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Riding under the radar

How to 'prepare' for the big races

Athletes have never been more closely scrutinised and more frequently tested for performance-enhancing drugs, both in and out of competition. Anti-doping authorities regularly make confident statements about the efficacy of the regime. But can athletes still beat the system? Jeff Jones reports.

When athletes test positive for performance-enhancing substances, they often point to a long history of negative tests as evidence of their innocence. In cycling, riders such as David Millar have subsequently confessed to using banned, detectable substances at times when they must surely have been under scrutiny.

The question that must be asked, in the light of such incidents and l'Equipe's accusations against Lance Armstrong, is: is it still possible to take illegal performance enhancing substances but remain clean in the eyes of the drug testers? A confidential medical source told Cyclingnews that they believed it was quite possible, and outlined a simple but plausible method to do it.

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