PORTO VECCHIO, France (AFP) — Shamed U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong said in an interview with Le Monde on Friday, on the eve of the 100th edition of the Tour de France, that it was “impossible” to win the sport’s most famous race without doping during his career.
Asked whether it was possible to win without taking performance-enhancing drugs when he was riding, he responded: “That depends on the races that you wanted to win.
“The Tour de France? No. Impossible to win without doping because the Tour is an endurance event where oxygen is decisive,” he was quoted as saying by the French daily.
He added: “To take one example, EPO (erythropoetin) will not help a sprinter to win a 100m but it will be decisive for a 10,000m runner. It’s obvious.”
Armstrong, who won the Tour a record seven times between 1999 and 2005, later said his claims only applied to the period in which he dominated the sport.
“99-05. I was clear with Stephane Mandard (the sports editor of Le Monde) on this. Today? I have no idea. I’m hopeful it’s possible,” he wrote on Twitter.
Armstrong was exposed last year as a serial drug cheat in a devastating U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that plunged cycling into crisis about the extent of drug-taking in the peloton.
The Texan, who insisted for years that he did not take performance-enhancing drugs, was stripped of his Tour titles and banned from the sport for life.
He then admitted in a television interview that he used a cocktail of banned substances, including the blood booster EPO, testosterone, and blood transfusions to win the Tour.
Armstrong told Le Monde that he was not the first athlete to dope and there would always be a doping culture but cycling was being made a “scapegoat” for the practice in all sport.
“I simply took part in this system. I’m a human being,” he said, admitting that he could never erase the past but would strive to make up for it for the rest of his life.
UCI President Pat McQuaid fired back at Armstrong, saying he was disappointed at the timing of his comments.
“It is very sad that Lance Armstrong has decided to make this statement on the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France,” McQuaid said on the governing body’s website. “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.”
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) said he proved it was possible to triumph without cheating when he won the Tour in 2011.
“I think the opposite. I am proof that that is not true,” Evans said in response to Armstrong’s comments. “I sometimes read in the press what Armstrong says and I respect him as a human being but really I just focus on doing my own job as best I can and fortunately we are supported by a great group of people.
“We try to do our job as we see fit and within the rules of course.”
Evans’ teammate, Belgian Philippe Gilbert, added: “If the media did not react there would not be so many problems. But it sells papers. We are concentrating on the Tour.”
Sky, which includes pre-race favorite Chris Froome, would not address Armstrong’s claims.
Five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault reacted angrily to Armstrong’s comments and his claims that there was a doping culture in cycling.
“We’ve got to stop thinking that all cycle racers are thugs and druggies,” he told BFM TV. “It depresses me to hear all this. I think that when people do exactly what they have to do, in other words, proper testing in all sports, we’re going to be rolling around laughing for five minutes.
“Stop saying it’s cultural for God’s sake. It’s impossible. There are plenty of young riders who’ve had dope tests and not tested positive … It’s constant suspicion.”
Hinault on Thursday lashed out at claims that his fellow French cyclist Laurent Jalabert took EPO on the scandal-hit 1998 Tour, claiming that people wanted to “kill” the race.
McQuaid dismissed Armstrong’s comments and said the sport is looking forward.
“Armstrong’s views and opinions are shaped by his own behavior and time in the peloton. Cycling has now moved on,” McQuaid said. “The key thing is that the whole culture in cycling has undergone a complete sea-change. We may not yet have eradicated doping completely — unfortunately there will always be some riders who persist — but we are catching them, and the attitude in the peloton has switched against them.
“We will never turn back — and my work to ensure that we have a clean sport is unrelenting.”