BRUSSELS (AFP) — Belgian cycling great Eddy Merckx on Friday said that he was “extremely disappointed” that Lance Armstrong doped his way to seven Tour de France victories.
“He admitted it and it’s difficult to hear,” said the five-time Tour winner. “I was quite close to him and he often looked me right in the eyes when we discussed doping and obviously he said ‘no,’” said Merckx, who won a a record 34 stages on the Tour.
“Since the USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) published their report, I well imagined that things would go badly for him. My disappointment was already huge at the time but it is even more so now,” he told Belgian daily Le Soir.
In the first half of a two-part taped interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired Thursday, Armstrong said that he had used a cocktail of drugs to become the most recognizable rider in the sport and said he thought it was impossible to win the Tour without cheating during his seven-win run.
“It’s a disaster for the other riders. It’s so easy and so hypocritical,” said Merckx, whose son Axel raced during the same period as Armstrong. “The Armstrong era has been difficult for cycling and came after the Festina affair when we discovered (the blood booster) EPO (erythopoetin), etc.
“But that is not a reason to say someone cannot win the Tour de France without doping. When the other riders today hear that, they’re really going go be happy,” he continued, sarcastically. “I just want to emphasise how extremely disappointed I am and I didn’t see it coming. I don’t know how he could get to that stage, to lie to everyone and all the time.”
Merckx tested positive for banned substances three times in his career, and was expelled from the 1969 Giro d’Italia while leading the race after providing a sample that contained a banned stimulant. He contested that result over its handling, and tested positive for stimulants again at the 1973 Giro di Lombardia and again at the 1977 Flèche Wallonne.
“I just hope that the current crop of riders will not be too disillusioned by this news because it’s they who have seen their jobs put under permanent suspicion. It’s not simple but it’s them I’m thinking of first.”