Tour champion under scrutiny
The story so far:
The French newspaper L'Equipe alleged earlier this week that signs of EPO were detected in samples of Armstrong's urine given during the 1999 race, the samples can be matched to Armstrong and they say that they have conclusive evidence. The story is rumbling on all week and looks like it's here to stay.
They have reinforced their claim by stating that the French Anti-Doping Agency had positive EPO tests from 15 riders at the 1999 Tour and 40 positive tests from the 1998 Tour (the Festina scandal in 1997 clearly had little effect then...) Jacques de Ceaurriz, the head of France's anti-doping laboratory (they developed the EPO urine test) reflected on how widespread the drug was when riders thought they could not be caught.
L'Equipe have now said it was able to confirm that one of the 15 1999 samples was that of Lance Armstrong, apparently they have matched the cyclist's medical certificates with the results of positive doping tests with the same sample numbers. Obviously the tests are being questioned by all involved and a long legal battle may be inevitable.
Armstrong's close friend, Eddy Merckx, continues to support him, telling Le Monde newspaper that:
"Armstrong always told me that he never used doping products, choosing between a journalist and Lance's word, I trust Armstrong."
Another 5-time Tour winner, Miguel Indurain, played the whole thing down, stating in Spain's sports daily newspaper Marca that: "I feel the news is in bad taste and out of place, given that it happened six years ago after his first Tour victory, and after he won six more, with the little I have to go on, it is difficult to take a position, but I think at this stage there's no sense in stirring all this up."
Not so supportive is Jean-Marie Leblanc (recently retired Tour organiser), he stirs it up and backs L'Equipe (a co-sponsor of the Tour) and condems the man who has revitalised the French race worldwide, he says: "For the first time, and these are no longer rumors, or insinuations, these are proven scientific facts, someone has shown me that in 1999, Armstrong had a banned substance called EPO in his body, the ball is now in his court. Why, how, by whom? He owes explanations to us and to everyone who follows the tour. Today, what L'Equipe revealed shows me that I was fooled. We were all fooled." so he probably won't be on Lance and Sheryl's Christmas card list anymore...
Armstrong continues to deny all allegations of drug taking and restates that he has never tested positive. However when it comes to the question of legal action he suggests that he has better things to do with his money and time, speaking to cyclingnews.com yesterday he said that:
"[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." He's obviously thought about it then.
Lance Armstrong will appear on Larry King's CNN TV chat show tonight in Washington. So expect him to come out fighting.
So what do you think? Storm in a tea cup? French conspiracy? A bit late in the day?
• L'Equipe translated by Google...
• Read Lance's statements in full at www.lancearmstrong.com