ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Trek) says he believes Lance Armstrong was clean when he returned to cycling in 2009.
The proof? Schleck says it comes with the fact that he finished ahead of the banned Texan in the 2009 Tour, won by Alberto Contador. Schleck was second in that race, with Armstrong third.
“I am confident that he was clean when he came back,” Schleck said Saturday ahead of the Tour Down Under. “I know that because I was always a clean rider. And how could he finish behind me if he was doped? As Lance said, a lot of has changed with the biological passport. I have to believe he was clean in his comeback. I was clean in 2009.”
Armstrong raised some eyebrows during his two-part TV interview with Oprah Winfrey this week by insisting that he was clean when he returned in 2009.
Despite evidence suggesting that Armstrong continued to blood dope in his comeback, Armstrong claims the last time he “crossed that line” by doping came in 2005.
Schleck said Armstrong’s TV confession was “no surprise.”
“Now that Lance has confessed on Oprah, it’s not a big surprise. We knew the evidence. It’s good for him. Maybe it takes some weight off of his shoulders,” Schleck said. “He won seven Tours cheating. I do not defend him. I was shocked when I read the pages of the [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] report.”
Like many riders at the WorldTour-opening Tour Down Under, Schleck complained that today’s peloton is taking the brunt of the heat that comes from the fallout of the USADA case against Armstrong.
“I was 14 years old when Lance first won the Tour. We came into a different era. It’s sad to say that we are paying the price for what happened 15 years ago,” he said. “How can we pay the price when most of us were not even professional 15 years ago?”
Schleck says he hopes the conversation can change its tone now that Armstrong has publicly admitted to doping.
“We are facing a clean sport today, even though all the headlines in the newspaper are about doping. We need to learn from the past, we cannot forget that, but we also need to look at the past five or six years, that there are a lot of good things happening in the sport,” he said. “We should focus now on the future, by riding good and showing our blood values to experts, and hopefully regaining the trust back that was lost from guys like Lance and the others who have caused it to be lost.”
Schleck is making his season debut at the Tour Down Under in his first major race since crashing out of the Critérium du Dauphiné last June. Schleck raced the Tour of Beijing in October, but he admitted he was “barely there” before abandoning.
“I want to race as many days as possible before the Tour. I want to have 60 race days in my legs before the Tour,” he said. “I need to regain my confidence. That’s what I lost when I sat at home for six months.”