PARIS – Lance Armstrong (search) denied a report Tuesday in the French sports daily L'Equipe that said the seven-time Tour de France champion used the performance-enhancing drug EPO to help win his first Tour in 1999.
"Unfortunately, the witch hunt continues and tomorrow's article is nothing short of tabloid journalism," Armstrong wrote on his Web site Monday night. "I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs."
Meanwhile the director of the Tour de France said L'Equipe's report seemed "very complete, very professional, very meticulous" and that it "appears credible."
"We are very shocked, very troubled by the revelations we read this morning," Jean-Marie Leblanc told RTL radio. However, he cautioned that Armstrong, his doctors and his aides should be heard out before people make any final judgment.
Leblanc also said any disciplinary action appeared unlikely, based on the L'Equipe account. The paper's investigation was based solely on B samples — the second of two samples used in doping tests. The A samples were used up in 1999 for analysis at the time.
L'Equipe devoted four pages to its allegations, with the front-page headline "The Armstrong Lie." The paper said that signs of EPO (search) use were found in Armstrong's urine six times during the 1999 race.
The governing body of world cycling did not begin using a urine test for EPO until 2001. For years, it had been impossible to detect the drug, called erythropoietin, which builds endurance by boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells.
The tests on 1999 urine samples were done last year to help scientists improve their detection methods, the paper said.
L'Equipe said it matched anonymous urine samples from that Tour with medical statements signed by doctors, claiming that there were "characteristic, undeniable and consequent" signs of EPO in Armstrong's urine tests.
The newspaper said the tests were carried out by the national anti-doping laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry. An official at the lab declined to comment on the report.
L'Equipe, whose parent company is closely linked to the Tour, has frequently raised questions about how Armstrong could have made his spectacular comeback from testicular cancer without using performance enhancers. L'Equipe is owned by the Amaury Group whose subsidiary, Amaury Sport Organization, organizes the Tour de France and other sporting events.
A former L'Equipe journalist, Pierre Ballester, was co-author of a book published last year that contained doping allegations against Armstrong. He wrote the book with Sunday Times sportswriter David Walsh.
In the book, "L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong," one of the cyclist's former assistants claimed that Armstrong once asked her to dispose of used syringes and give him makeup to conceal needle marks on his arms.
Armstrong has taken libel action against The Sunday Times after the British newspaper reprinted allegations in a review of the book in June 2004. The case will go to trial in London's High Court in November.
Armstrong retired from cycling after his record seventh straight Tour victory last month.