Drug Suspicions Upset Armstrong

Thursday, April 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) _ Lance Armstrong says he is bitter over suspicions surrounding his two victories in the Tour de France.

In an interview published Thursday in the French newspaper L'Equipe, the cyclist blamed the suspicions on the atmosphere created by a widespread drug scandal that almost wrecked the 1998 Tour and tainted the sport's image.

Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team is now the subject of a French investigation into the possibility riders may have used banned substances in the 2000 Tour, which Armstrong won for the second straight year.

He has denied using banned performance-enhancing drugs, and U.S. Postal officials have said the team respects anti-doping rules.

Armstrong and his lawyer said Monday that the results clear him but that French officials have declined to release them.

After Armstrong came back from testicular cancer to win the 1999 Tour, French newspapers were loaded with suggestions Armstrong he used doping agents. He repeated his victory the following year.

Armstrong told L'Equipe he was bitter at having been the subject of suspicion.

``I was the victim of an atmosphere created by the Festina affair,'' Armstrong told the paper. The Festina cycling team was expelled from the 1998 Tour after a team official's car was found to contain a stash of doping products.

A French trial that grew out of the scandal led to frank testimony about the use of drugs in the world of cycling, and to the conviction of eight people.

``What matters is that I am innocent,'' Armstrong said. On Monday he told a news conference that French officials had found no evidence of doping in urine samples tested so far. But officials have yet to test blood samples taken from the team, Armstrong said.

``Nobody wants a clean sport more than I do,'' Armstrong told L'Equipe. ``With the new tests carried out by the UCI (International Cycling Union), the Tour de France will be clean.''

The UCI _ world cycling's governing body _ last week began using a urine test capable of detecting the banned performance-enhancer EPO.

Until last year, it was impossible to detect EPO, or erythropoietin, which builds endurance by boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells. It is believed to be widely used by cyclists and by competitors in other endurance sports.

Armstrong has said he aims to win a third Tour de France. The race starts July 7 in Dunkirk and ends July 29 in Paris.