Armstrong Fends Off New Drug Accusations
By SAMUEL ABT
Published: August 23, 2005
PARIS, Aug. 23 - In a major challenge to Lance Armstrong's domination of the Tour de France, the French sports newspaper L'Équipe charged today that the American rider frequently used an illegal performance-enhancing drug in 1999 to win his first of seven consecutive Tours.
Armstrong, 33 years old, who retired July 24 after his latest victory, strongly denied the charge.
He has been under suspicion and investigated a handful of times since his comeback in 1999 from testicular cancer, but has never been proven guilty of doping.
"Unfortunately, the witch hunt continues," he said on his Web site, adding that 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."
L'Équipe devoted four pages to its charges, beginning with a front-page banner headline, "The Armstrong Lie." In an accompanying editorial, the newspaper stated flatly that "Lance Armstrong has used EPO," the banned erythropoietin, to increase the red blood corpuscles that carry oxygen to muscles.
"After a long, painstaking and rigorous investigation, L'Équipe publishes today the proof," the editorial continued.
On inside pages, the paper reproduced what it said were EPO tests of frozen urine samples taken from riders during the 1999 Tour.
Six samples that the paper said were taken from Armstrong proved positive for the "indisputable" use of EPO, the paper said. It added that six other samples from riders who were not identified had also proven positive. "It cannot be regarded as a positive test in the strict regulatory sense," the newspaper said, doubting that French sanctions were likely. However, it continued, the World Antidoping Agency or the U.S. Antidoping Agency could act.
The tests were done at the Chatenay- Malabry laboratory outside Paris last year, the specialist doping facility confirmed. No tests for EPO were available in 1999, and the urine samples were tested in 2004 to help scientists refine detection methods, the paper said. It explained that its reporters had matched the six-digit labels identifying each sample with forms filed with the French Cycling Federation during the Tour. Those forms, filled out each time a sample was taken in a drug test, identified the donor by name as well as the six digits on his urine sample.
L'Équipe reproduced both what it said were the results of the laboratory's tests, with sample number, and the forms with the same number and Armstrong's name. To a layman, the laboratory chart was nearly incomprehensible, except for its table of sample numbers. A low number presumably signifying EPO levels could be marked positive in a nearby column while a much higher number could be marked negative.
But Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France, called the paper's report "very complete, very professional, very meticulous." He said on RTL radio that the charge "appears credible." Leblanc added that disciplinary action seemed unlikely since the tests were based on only the second, or B, urine sample taken during the race. The A sample was tested in 1999 and not frozen.