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By Bryan JewVeloNews Senior Writer
On Monday’s rest day at the Tour de France, race leader Lance Armstrong held a mid-race press conference at the press room at the Palais Beaumont in Pau, France. While the standard questions regarding the Tour thus far and Armstrong’s plans for the future were put forward, the one-hour meeting with the press eventually turned to the issue of doping, and also to Armstrong’s relationship with the controversial Italian trainer, Michele Ferrari. Despite the aggressive line of questioning, Armstrong maintained a cool exterior in defending his association with Ferrari, and vigorously reminded the world of cycling’s strict drug-testing policies.
Ferrari is one of the Italian doctors currently under investigation by prosecutors in Florence, Italy, for allegedly doping athletes. Armstrong insisted, however, that his association with Ferrari is strictly above board.
“I’m comfortable with the relationship. I’ve never denied the relationship. I believe he’s an honest man, I believe he’s a fair man, and I believe he’s an innocent man. I’ve never seen anything to lead me to believe otherwise,” he said.
Armstrong also used the opportunity to remind people of the amount of drug testing that goes on in the sport. “Again, people are not stupid. People will look at the facts. They will say, okay, here’s Lance Armstrong. Here’s the relationship. Is that questionable? Perhaps. But people are smart. Do they say, ‘Has Lance Armstrong ever tested positive?’ No. Has Lance Armstrong been tested? A lot. Was Lance Armstrong’s team been put under investigation and their urine from the 2000 Tour de France, where there was no EPO control, was it tested for EPO? Yes it was. Was it clean? Absolutely. Did he declare cortisone in any of his drug controls from the 2000 Tour de France. No he did not. Now, that takes us to 2001. Is there an EPO test? Absolutely. Will he pass every test, because he does not take EPO? Yes he will. Did he declare cortisone? Did he use cortisone in the 2001 Tour de France? No he did not. I think the people believe in that.”
Armstrong acknowledged, however, that people will always have questions and suspicions regarding his sport. “I have a questionable reputation because I’m a cyclist. Everybody in this sport has a questionable reputation,” he said. “Because anybody on any team, they go out on the road, they’re looked at as a possible doper. An investigation that’s launched here in France brings my reputation into doubt. We’re all under investigation, so until there’s a conviction, until somebody’s proven guilty, then I can’t view them as guilty, because I see them as innocent.”
The Tour leader also drew comparisons with other sports, where the testing is not so stringent. “I think it’s an issue of sport. People love to single out cycling, and granted, cycling’s made some big mistakes, but this is an issue of sport — Olympic sport, endurance sport and world sport. These problems are not exclusive to cycling or the Tour de France, or Lance Armstrong. These are global problems, sports problems. I think that cycling is on its way out of the crisis, that it’s done more than any other sport. Look at track and field, look at swimming, look at tennis. Show me another sport that’s done what cycling’s done. Show me another sport that’s approved a test for EPO, and called people positive. There’s nobody. There will always be people that don’t want to believe that. But, you’ve got to look at the facts. If it’s regarding me, or if it’s regarding our sport, at the end of the day, you have to look at the facts. Has it been a rough few years, beginning three years ago with the Festina Affair? Absolutely. It’s been terrible. But I support the UCI and I support Hein Verbrugghen and I think that they’ve done everything that they can do. I support Jean-Marie Leblanc. I support what they’ve done here in France. I think this is a clean Tour.”
Armstrong did acknowledge that he frequently uses an altitude bed as part of his regimen, saying that he does not consider it a form of doping. “I do utilize an altitude tent and altitude training,” he said. “It’s absolutely clean, absolutely legal and absolutely healthy.”
While Armstrong seemed to be comfortable in the long exchange on the subject of doping, he did at one point express his disdain for the members of the media who relentlessly pursue the subject. “You guys are like the weather,” he said. “Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it’s rain. When it’s sunny, you put on sunscreen, and when it’s raining, you put on a raincoat. And you live with it. I can’t change the weather.”
As the press conference drew to a close, he finally said, “In about 30 seconds, I’m gonna walk out of here and you’re all gonna be out of my life. And when the race is done, I’m going to go home to my family, and then you’ll really be out of my life.”