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Lance Armstrong (Astana)
Seven-time champion responds to tough questions from the press
Lance Armstrong's first appearance at a Tour de France press conference since 2005, when he faced the media wearing the final yellow jersey of his seven-year winning run, was different in some respects and familiar in others.
As well as questions about the race, he fielded a couple that, even if they didn't explicitly mention doping, were concerned with the dreaded D-word. He also responded to a recently published interview with Patrice Clerc, who was ousted as president of Tour organisers ASO at the end of last October. In the story, Clerc said that Armstrong's return coincided with the "return of doubt" to the Tour de France.
When asked if his return to the Tour, and its first four stages, had put cycling back centre stage in the press for the right reasons, ie. rather than for doping, Armstrong replied succinctly, "I don't know. It's difficult to know if you're not paying that much attention, which I haven't been, other than the few sites or outlets I visit.
"It's the Tour, It's cycling. There were some issues at the beginning, which I think got exploited a little bit; that's just the nature of the times we're living in within this sport," he continued before taking a dig at the press.
"I do think it's important [to] not to forget to talk about the race. Sometimes I get the impression that too many journalists come to the race for one reason, and that's to write the doping story.
"Granted, if someone crosses the line and breaks the rules you've got to write the story, but you've also got to sit back and analyse the great stuff that happens: the great performance of a team like Astana today [in winning the team time trial], or the closeness of Saxo [Bank]; all the things that make up the dynamic and the beauty of a sport like cycling.
"Let's hope we're getting there," he added, "but I don't have any predictions."
Was the Tour perfect under Clerc?
In response to Clerc's comment about his return coinciding with the "return of doubt" to the Tour, Armstrong turned the question around. "I have a question for you – was the Tour and ASO a perfect situation while I was gone?"
In the period since Armstrong ‘retired', the Tour has been blighted by the fallout from Operacion Puerto, Floyd Landis's positive test in 2006 and his later disqualification, Michael Rasmussen's expulsion while wearing the yellow jersey in 2007 and eight positive tests during last year's Tour.
Armstrong appeared to place the blame for much of the 'doubt' on the race organiser. "When you look at any company, any organisation, and you have dissension in the ranks, you have to look at the boss," continued Armstrong.
"[Clerc] was the boss, and under his leadership cycling was not perfect. The question really ought to be turned back to him. I understand he's upset he no longer has a job, but the fact that I'm back here is ‘the return of doubt'… I would turn the question around and analyse the four years I was gone, under his leadership."