Lance Armstrong came back on Friday to haunt the 100th edition of cycling’s showcase race the Tour de France, by telling the French newspaper Le Monde he would never have won without doping.
Armstrong’s interview with the publication was surprising on many levels, not least because of his long-antagonistic relationship with the respected French daily that first reported in 1999 that corticosteroids were found in the American’s urine as he was riding his way to the first of his seven Tour wins. In response, Armstrong complained he was being persecuted by “vulture journalism, desperate journalism.”
In Friday's interview — published in French — Armstrong claimed that it was “impossible” to win the Tour without doping when he was racing. Armstrong already told television talk show host Oprah Winfrey when he finally confessed this January that doping was just “part of the job” of being a pro cyclist.
Not one to shy away from the limelight or minimize his choices, Armstrong told Le Monde he still considers himself the record-holder for Tour victories, even though all seven of his titles were stripped from him last year for doping. He also said his life has been ruined by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation that exposed as lies his years of denials that he and his teammates doped, according to The Associated Press.
The interview was the latest blast from cycling’s doping-tainted recent history to tarnish the 100-year-old race.
Previously, Armstrong’s former rival on French roads, 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich, confessed to blood-doping for the first time with a Spanish doctor. French media also reported that a Senate investigation into the effectiveness of anti-doping controls pieced together evidence of drug use at the 1998 Tour by Laurent Jalabert, a former star of the race now turned broadcaster.
The banned hormone erythropoietin, or EPO, wasn’t detectable by cycling’s doping controls until 2001 and so was widely abused because it prompts the body to produce oxygen-carrying red blood cells, giving a big performance boost to endurance athletes.
Armstrong was clearly talking about his own era, rather than the Tour today. Le Monde reported that he was responding to the question: “When you raced, was it possible to perform without doping?”
“That depends on which races you wanted to win. The Tour de France? No. Impossible to win without doping. Because the Tour is a test of endurance where oxygen is decisive,” Le Monde quoted Armstrong as saying.
Some subsequent media reports about Le Monde’s interview concluded that Armstrong was saying doping is still necessary now, rather than when he was winning the Tour from 1999-2005. That suggestion provoked dismay from current riders, race organizers and the sport’s governing body, the International Cycling Union or UCI.
“If he’s saying things like he doesn’t think that it’s possible to win the Tour clean, then he should be quiet — because it is possible,” said American rider Tejay van Garderen of the BMC team.
Asked later by The Associated Press to clarify his comments, Armstrong said on Twitter that he was talking about the period from 1999-2005. He indicated that doping might not be necessary now.
On Friday, Tour de France riders hit back at Armstrong dismissing the claims by the shamed American cyclist , saying his remarks hurt their credibility.