PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica – Lance Armstrong made himself the uninvited guest at the Tour de France on Friday, coming back to haunt the 100th edition of the race and infuriating riders both past and present by talking at length in a newspaper interview about doping in the sport.
Armstrong told Le Monde that he still considers himself the record-holder for Tour victories, even though all seven of his titles from 1999-2005 were stripped from him last year for doping.
He 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. He also took another swipe at cycling’s top administrators, darkly suggesting they could be brought down by other skeletons in the sport’s closet.
None of those comments broke new ground, but in answering questions from Le Monde – a newspaper he scorned when he was still competing – Armstrong ensured that his views on doping at the Tour would have maximum impact in France and couldn’t easily be written off as sour grapes being hurled at the race from afar. The respected daily is very much France’s newspaper of record.
Its interview with the rider and his assertion that doping won’t be eradicated from cycling dominated French airwaves ahead of the race start this morning, causing dismay and anger in the sport desperate to prove that it has turned the page on his era of serial cheating.
The Tour’s director, Christian Prudhomme, suggested Armstrong was milking the race’s notoriety to further his own agenda.
“This is a very big tournament, just look around: There are 2,300 accredited journalists here, there are cameras everywhere. So if someone wanted to transmit a message, this is the time obviously, especially since everyone likes this kind of controversial statements,” he said.
Armstrong’s claim that it was “impossible” to win the Tour without doping in his era echoed what he already told U.S. television talk show host Oprah Winfrey in January, when he finally confessed. Then, he said doping was “part of the job.”
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.
Asked later by The Associated Press to clarify his comments, Armstrong confirmed on Twitter he was talking solely about the period from 1999-2005.
The renewed pre-Tour focus on cycling’s past has led to renewed appeals from some involved in the sport for a “truth and reconciliation” process – where those involved in doping past and present could air what they know once and for all, so cycling can then move forward.