Lance Armstrong uninvited, unwanted guest at 100th Tour de France
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 on Saturday, 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 comments and the consternation they caused highlighted cycling's dilemma: It is a sport fighting to give itself a cleaner, brighter future by combating drug cheats but much of that good work is being overshadowed by the dirty secrets of dopers from the past.
Pre-Tour, a drip-drip-drip of doping confessions and revelations about the Armstrong era have rained on the sport. Armstrong's former rival on French roads, 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich, admitted to blood-doping for the first time.
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.
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.
"The Tour is a test of endurance where oxygen is decisive," Le Monde quoted Armstrong as saying. It published the interview in French. •
Tour de France stages
Note • The Tour will be televised on NBCSN, beginning Saturday at 5:30 a.m.
Saturday • First Stage: Porto-Vecchio to Bastia, Italy, flat (132.4 miles)
Sunday • Second Stage: Bastia to Ajaccio, Italy, medium mountain (96.9)
Monday • Third Stage: Ajaccio to Calvi, Italy, medium mountain (90.4)
Tuesday • Fourth Stage: Nice, France, team time trial (15.5)
July 3 • Fifth Stage: Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille, rolling (142.0)
July 4 • Sixth Stage: Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier, flat (109.7)
July 5 • Seventh Stage: Montpellier to Albi, rolling (127.7)
July 6 • Eighth Stage: Castres to Ax 3 Domaines, high mountain (121.2)
July 7 • Ninth Stage: Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre, high mountain (104.7)
July 8 • Rest day, Saint-Nazaire/Loire-Atlantique
July 9 • 10th Stage: Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo, flat (122.4)
July 10 • 11th Stage: Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel, individual time trial (20.5)
July 11 • 12th Stage: Fougeres to Tours, flat (135.5)
July 12 • 13th Stage: Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond, flat (107.5)
July 13 • 14th Stage: Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule to Lyon, rolling (118.7)
July 14 • 15th Stage: Givors to Mont Ventoux, high mountain (150.7)
July 15 • Rest day, Vaucluse
July 16 • 16th Stage: Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap, medium mountain (104.4)
July 17 • 17th Stage: Embrun to Chorges, individual time trial (19.9)
July 18 • 18th Stage: Gap to Alpe-Huez, high mountain (107.2)
July 19 • 19th Stage: Bourg-d'Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand, high mountain (127.1)
July 20 • 20th Stage: Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz, high mountain (77.7)
July 21 • 21st Stage: Versailles to Paris, Champs-Elysees, flat (83.0)
Total • 2,114.8 miles