Lance Armstrong, stripped last year of the seven Tour de France titles he won between 1999 and 2005, has said it was impossible to win the race in his day without doping, and also says that “cycling will not change” as long as Pat McQuaid remains president of the UCI.
He was speaking to French newspaper Le Monde in an interview to be published in its Sport & Forme supplement tomorrow as the 100th edition of the race gets under way on Corsica, and which can also be purchased as a single article online for €2.
However, a trail article published on the Le Monde website today, containing selected quotes from Armstrong, reports him as saying “C'est impossible de gagner le Tour de France sans se doper” – “It is impossible to win the Tour de France without doping.”
Crucially, the words “C’est” are missing in the full interview, in which Armstrong was replying to a question asking “whether it was possible to produce performances when you were racing without doping.”
He replied: “It depends on the races that you wanted to win. The Tour de France, no. Impossible to win without doping. Because the Tour is a test of endurance in which oxygen is the determining factor. To give just one example, EPO isn’t going to help a sprinter win a 100m race, but it will be decisive for a 10,000m runner. It’s obvious.”
The confusion caused by the addition of “C’est” to the quote, given it was made in a free-to-access article rather than the paid one, has led many to interpret his remarks as insinuating that the peloton is no cleaner now than it was in his day.
UCI President Pat McQuaid has insisted the sport is cleaner now.
In a response to the Le Monde article, he said: “It is very sad that Lance Armstrong has decided to make this statement on the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France.” [This year’s race is the 100th edition; the 100th anniversary was in 2003 – ed]
“However, I can tell him categorically that he is wrong. His comments do absolutely nothing to help cycling.
“The culture within cycling has changed since the Armstrong era and it is now possible to race and win clean.
“Riders and teams owners have been forthright in saying that it is possible to win clean – and I agree with them.”
In the Le Monde interview, Armstrong talks at length about the UCI and its president – whom he says has “no credibility” when it comes to anti-doping.
Last October, when the UCI ratified USADA’s decision to ban Armstrong for life and strip him of results including those seven Tour de France wins, McQuaid said: “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling.”
Asked about that remark, Armstrong told Le Monde: “I just think Pat McQuaid tried to make a political statement to claim that he was taking a hard line against doping. But, obviously, there is no truth in the matter. McQuaid can say and think what he wants. He has much more important issues to worry about.”
Foremost among those is September’s election for the UCI presidency, in which McQuaid, seeking a third term, is being challenged by British Cycling president Brian Cookson. Armstrong said he didn’t know Cookson well enough to judge his candidacy, but added: “I think cycling needs new leadership to try and regain credibility. Things simply will not change if McQuaid remains in power. And I’ve told him that.”
He added that he believes McQuaid is doing “all he can to avoid a Truth & Reconciliation commission,” and that the UCI wants to avoid putting one in place, as USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency have called for, “because it would engulf McQuaid, [his predecessor as UCI president] Hein Verbruggen and the entire institution.”
In his response, McQuaid insisted however that the UCI was “totally committed to some form of ‘truth process’ for professional cycling,” adding: “As I have said on numerous occasions, I have nothing to hide and no fear of any investigation or Truth and Reconciliation process. If Armstrong – or indeed anyone else – has evidence to the contrary, he should produce it now and put a stop to this ongoing damage to cycling.”
The UCI president also addressed claims that the governing body colluded in covering up Armstrong’s doping.
USADA’s Reasoned Decision detailing the use of a back-dated prescription, accepted by the governing body, to overcome a positive test by Armstrong for a corticosteroid during the 1999 Tour de France, as well as a suspicious test for EPO during the 2001 Tour de Suisse.
McQuaid said: “IThe UCI is totally committed to conducting an independent audit into its behaviour during the years when Armstrong was winning the Tour. The UCI’s invitation to WADA to work with us on this stands.
“If WADA will not, however, the UCI will press ahead itself and appoint independent experts to carry out this audit.”
He made no mention of the fact that the UCI had already established an Independent Commission into its role in the US Postal scandal, but dissolved it amid angry scenes in London as it met to consider its terms of reference and before it had even had a chance to hear evidence.
Armstrong himself, not invited to the reunion of former champions in Paris at the end of this year’s Tour, revealed that he planned to follow some of the race via TV from his home in Colorado.
He also disclosed that he still had the seven framed maillots jaunes that appeared in a photo he tweeted from his former home in Austin after finally confessing to his doping.
“I worked hard for those jerseys and I love them for what they are and all the memories they represent,” he said.
Asked whether he still considered himself as holding the record number of victories in the race, he replied: “Absolutely.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.