Published January 13, 2015
Lance Armstrong climbed down off his bike a month ago. His counterattacking skills, though, remain as sharp as ever.
A day after the director of the Tour de France (search) said the seven-time champion "fooled" race officials and the sporting world by doping, Armstrong responded to the growing controversy with harsh words for everyone connected to a report in L'Equipe, the French sports daily that made the original accusation.
"Where to start?" Armstrong mused during a conference call Wednesday from Washington, D.C. "This has been a long love-hate relationship between myself and the French."
He went on to lambaste L'Equipe and question the science and ethics of the suburban Paris laboratory that stored frozen samples from the 1999 tour, tested them only last year and leaked the results used in the newspaper's report.
He even suggested that officials of the Tour and sports ministries who were involved in putting the story together could wind up facing him in court.
"Right now," Armstrong said, "we're considering all our options."
But a moment later, he added, "In the meantime, it would cost a million and a half dollars and a year of my life. I have a lot better things to do with the million and a half ... a lot better things I can do with my time. Ultimately, I have to ask myself that question."
What convinced Armstrong to go on the offensive were remarks earlier Wednesday by tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc (search). He said L'Equipe's report that six urine samples Armstrong provided during his first tour win in 1999 tested positive for the red blood cell-booster EPO had convinced him the cyclist had cheated.
"The ball is now in his court," Leblanc told the newspaper. "Why, how, by whom? He owes explanations to us and to everyone who follows the Tour. Today, what L'Equipe revealed shows me that I was fooled. We were all fooled."
But in one sense, Armstrong felt the same way, saying he talked to Leblanc on the telephone after the tour director spoke to L'Equipe, but before those remarks were published.
"I actually spoke to him for about 30 minutes and he didn't say any of that stuff to me personally," Armstrong said. "But to say that I've 'fooled' the fans is preposterous. I've been doing this a long time. We have not just one year of only 'B' samples; we have seven years of 'A' and 'B' samples. They've all been negative."
Armstrong questioned the validity of testing samples frozen six years ago, how those samples were handled since, and how he could be expected to defend himself when the only confirming evidence — the 'A' sample used for the 1999 tests — no longer existed.
He also charged officials at the suburban Paris lab with violating World Anti-Doping Agency (search) code for failing to safeguard the anonymity of any remaining 'B' samples it had.
"It doesn't surprise me at all that they have samples. Clearly they've tested all of my samples since then to the highest degree. But when I gave those samples," he said, referring to 1999, "there was not EPO in those samples. I guarantee that."
EPO, formally known as erythropoietin (search), was on the list of banned substances when Armstrong won his first Tour, but there was no effective test to detect the drug.
But Armstrong's assurances he never took performance-enhancing drugs has been good enough for his sponsors. A previously scheduled meeting with several brought him to Washington, and he said afterward, "We haven't seen any damage."
But Armstrong acknowledged the same was likely true at L'Equipe.
"Obviously, this is great business for them," he said. "Unfortunately, I'm caught in the cross-hairs.
"And at the end of day," he added, "I think that's what it's all about ... selling newspapers. And it sells."