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By Agence France Presse
Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong hit back Saturday at insinuations that he sullied cycling’s premier event, saying he reigned over the race when the sport’s popularity was at a peak.
“The last time I checked, I won the Tour seven straight years and was never once found to be guilty of doping despite seven years of intense scrutiny,” Armstrong said in a statement.
“We won clean and fair. Also, according to industry standards, TV ratings, worldwide media impressions, spectators along the route, and global sponsorships were at an all-time high. Where’s the embarrassment in that?”
Armstrong was reacting to a comment from Jean-Etienne Amaury, the new president of the Tour de France’s parent company Amaury Sports Organization, who told the French sports daily L’Equipe that Armstrong: “We cannot say that he has not embarrassed the Tour de France.”
Cancer survivor Armstrong also accused critics of his cycling comeback of trying to attract attention for themselves.
“Furthermore, as I’ve stated clearly, my main objective in 2009 is to bring about global awareness of a disease that kills eight million people annually worldwide,” said Armstrong, a vocal cancer-awareness activist.
“Nobody ever said that I need the Tour de France in order to try and achieve this.
“It comes down to an issue of distraction, while I love the event and France’s people, I cannot accept this sort of grandstanding which distracts from the Livestrong message that is urgently needed.”
Amaury told AFP on Friday that Armstrong is welcome but he would have to adhere to the sport’s strict anti-doping rules.
“We’ve got no qualms about Armstrong coming back to the Tour,” Amaury said. “But we’ll be playing close attention to make sure he respects all requests that are made in an anti-doping framework to the letter.”
Days after Armstrong’s seventh Tour victory in 2005 L’Equipe alleged that several of his samples, kept since 1999 and tested retroactively, tested positive for EPO (erythropoietin).
Armstrong swiped those claims aside, but experts in recent days have offered to re-test Armstrong’s samples in a bid to “prove his good faith”.
“The way these samples are preserved and the volume of them mean that you can do an analysis for the possible presence of EPO on at least five stages of the 1999 Tour de France,” said a statement from France’s national anti-doping agency AFLD.
Armstrong spurned that offer earlier this week, claiming the French laboratory Châtenay-Malabry near Paris “mishandled” his urine samples.