By Tim Maloney, European Editor
As his Team Discovery Channel training camp in Solvang, California was wrapping up this week, Lance Armstrong received the news that a new doping investigation had been opened by French authorities against him. Armstrong responded on Thursday, January 20 to the inquest that will examine doping allegations from the book LA Confidentiel,les secrets de Lance Armstrong, co-written by sportswriter David Walsh and former L'Equipe cycling writer Pierre Ballester. Coincidentally, Armstrong has recently won a preliminary ruling for libel against The Sunday Times, which published excerpts from the alleged exposé, which up until now has only been published in France.
"Let me make one thing emphatically clear", said Armstrong in his statement. "I believe in clean and fair competition. As I have said before, I do not use - and have never used - performance-enhancing drugs. I am disappointed in the judge's decision to open this investigation without having talked to me first. I will make myself available anytime and anywhere to meet with the investigators in this case. They are also welcome to review my long history of tests for performance-enhancing drugs, which I have never failed. Last year alone I was tested 22 times by ASO, the UCI, WADA and USADA. I will be competing in Paris-Nice in March. I am confident my name will be cleared, and I look forward to racing in France for years to come." Armstrong recently told L'Equipe's JP Bidet on that he plans to start his 2005 season at Paris-Nice.
Last July, as Armstrong was riding to victory in his sixth straight Tour, a new investigation was opened by the Paris Brigade des Stupéfiants (Drug Squad), based in the Quai de Orfevres (the French equivalent of Scotland Yard), the very same bureau who looked into doping allegations raised against Armstrong by France 3 TV in 2000 that were later discredited and thrown out, but only after a long and fruitless investigation that featured a controversial investigative dossier that sported a picture of Armstrong with a giant syringe sticking out of his arm on its cover.
This time around, after reading the allegations by Armstrong's former USPS soigneur Emma O'Reilly in LA Confidentiel, the French drug squad asked O'Reilly to come to the Quai de Orfevres for a deposition, where she was accompanied by a French attorney Thibault de Montbrial, the same legal counsel that represented discredited Festina directeur sportif Bruno Roussel and is also counsel to one of LA Confidentiel's authors, Pierre Ballester.
For now, a Paris judge has passed the preliminary investigation to the state prosecutor of Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region, Philippe Drouet. According to Le Parisien, which broke the story earlier this week, the case has been transferred to Annecy because of criteria of geographic competence, because of the existence of a witness, an osteopath-nutritionist who lives in the Annecy area.
Cyclingnews has confirmed that the person the investigation are referring to is Dr. Benoît Nave, D.O., a former Volvo-Cannondale Mountain Bike Racing team doctor who treated Armstrong for his back injuries following his bad crash in the Dauphiné Liberé in 2003. Nave, who has never been connected to any suspicious activity, has worked with top athletes like mountain bikers like 2004 World Cup champ Chris Sauser, Athens Olympics dual gold medalist Hicham El-Guerrouj and Australian cyclist Cadel Evans.
"I have worked on several occasions with Lance Armstrong since October 2002," Nave told L'Equipe. "At that time he had already won the Tour four times. We met in San Francisco and he had a nutritional consultation. So there is nothing to hide in all this, and it is always interesting for me to work with people like Armstrong."
As of now, Annecy prosecutor Drouet is just beginning his preliminary investigation on the LA Confidentiel allegations and only after it's ascertained whether there is enough evidence can a formal investigation against Armstrong be pursued by the French judiciary.