PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica (AP) — The dirty past of the Tour de France came back Friday to haunt the 100th edition of cycling's showcase race, with Lance Armstrong telling a newspaper he couldn't have won without doping.
Armstrong's interview with Le Monde was surprising on many levels, not least because of his long-antagonistic relationship with the respected French daily that first reported in 1999 that corticosteroids were found in the American's urine as he was riding his way to the first of his seven Tour wins. In response, Armstrong had complained that he was being persecuted by "vulture journalism, desperate journalism."
Now seemingly prepared to let bygones be bygones, Armstrong told Le Monde that he still considers himself the record-holder for Tour victories, even though all seven of his titles were stripped from him last year for doping. He also 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.
The interview was the latest blast from cycling's doping-tainted recent history to rain on the Tour's 100th race. Previously, Armstrong's former rival on French roads, 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich, confessed to blood-doping for the first time with a Spanish doctor. 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.
Not surprising in Armstrong's interview was his claim that it was "impossible" to win the Tour without doping when he was racing. Armstrong already told U.S. television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey when he finally confessed this January that doping was just "part of the job" of being a pro-cyclist. 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 blood cells, giving a big performance boost to endurance athletes.