ROTTERDAM, Netherlands – Lance Armstrong heads into his last Tour de France intent on winning a record eighth title and motivated by former teammate Floyd Landis’ accusations that he used banned drugs during his career.
Armstrong, 38, said Thursday he is in a better shape than he was last year when he capped his return to competition with a third-place finish in cycling’s showcase event after a 31/2-year retirement.
Armstrong promised that he won’t let any allegation by Landis “deter me. In fact, in the end, it will be the opposite. It’s going to inspire me.”
Landis was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping. He recently said in e-mails to cycling officials and sponsors that Armstrong tested positive for EPO at the Tour de Suisse in 2002 and paid off former International Cycling Union boss Hein Verbruggen to keep it quiet. Armstrong won the 2001 Swiss race, but did not compete there in 2002.
Landis also accused Armstrong of teaching other riders to cheat.
“I don’t want to get into it. It’s not worth it,” Armstrong said. “I did my first Tour in 1993 and now it’s 2010. And I won a stage in 1993 as a 20-year-old. I’ve been at the front of my sport since the day I showed up. And in the process, there have been a ton of questions and a ton of scrutiny and a lot of controls and a lot of investigations. And I’m still here. I don’t see any other example in cycling or in any other sports.”
Armstrong and Landis rode together for three years with the U.S. Postal team. Landis left in 2005 to join Phonak.
“I understand that media love the sensationalist stories and they love the salacious and the ones that include accusations, that include all the blood and sex and drugs,” Armstrong said in a 45-minute interview before the team’s official presentation. “They love that. But at the end of the day, I think my career speaks for itself.”
The Tour starts Saturday in the Dutch port of Rotterdam with a 51/2-mile prologue. Armstrong confirmed it will be his last Tour and said he was likely to ride only those races related to his anti-cancer charity foundation next year.
Landis’ allegations reportedly have drawn the attention of U.S. Food and Drug Administration agent Jeff Novitzky, the lead investigator in the BALCO doping case.
Armstrong said Novitzky had not contacted him or his lawyers and denied reports contending his former wife Kristin decided to cooperate with him, saying she and the cancer survivor have “a very strong relationship.”
“I’m not sure he would call me,” Armstrong said, referring to Novitzky. “We haven’t heard.”
Armstrong said he is making this Tour his finale because he is tired of being away from his family. He has four children and girlfriend Anna Hansen is expecting his fifth child.
“It’s just a family decision,” he said. “Like I told the people that asked about it, at RadioShack, friends, that came from pressure from my kids. I’m away all the time. Not all the time, but enough time.”
Armstrong’s season has been hampered by illness and a crash at the Tour of California. Still, he believes he can derail overwhelming favorite Alberto Contador, who is trying to win a third Tour de France.
“I’m at the top of the form that I can have now,” Armstrong said. “At my age and with the setbacks we had in the spring.”
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