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National Anti-Doping Agencies must remain independent, says Fourneyron
The French Minister for Sport, Valérie Fourneyron, has welcomed the recent developments in the case against Lance Armstrong, making a firm call for the International Cycling Union (UCI) to uphold the sanctions imposed by USADA when it will receive the dossier from the American Anti-Doping Agency.
"I would not understand it if the UCI doesn't strip Lance Armstrong from his seven Tour de France titles. The UCI has to take its responsibilities regarding USADA's conclusions. It's the last necessary step in this procedure," Fourneyron told Le Monde on Monday.
The minister also underlined her support of the collaboration between the French Anti-Doping Agency AFLD and its American counterpart. In an exclusive interview with L'Equipe also published on Monday, Travis Tygart, head of USADA, indicated that both agencies had worked together very well, and that the AFLD had provided a part of the evidence gathered against Armstrong: the documents relating to six samples taken in 1999 that came back positive for EPO when re-tested in 2005.
"The AFLD and its former president, Pierre Bordry, played a crucial part in the Armstrong affair. They resisted various pressures. Personally, I will be very vigilant that there is no political intervention in the fight against doping. The independence of AFLD has to be respected," continued the member of the social democratic party, who succeeded to a conservative predecessor in May 2012.
By making these statements, Fourneyron alluded to Armstrong's good relations with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. In an interview with Le Monde from August 27, 2012, AFLD's scientific counsellor Michel Rieu said that political pressure had made the head of the AFLD Pierre Bordry resign from his job in September 2010. It was during Bordry's time that the AFLD and its anti-doping laboratory Chatenay-Malabry had performed the re-testing of Armstrong's 1999 samples.
"In October 2009, Armstrong was invited to lunch at the Elysée," Rieu recalled. "It was known that he wanted to obtain the departure of the AFLD president, Pierre Bordry, who resigned one year later. In March 2010, Armstrong presented Sarkozy with a bike. And a few months later, Sarkozy praised Lance Armstrong as a role model during a stage of the Tour de France. It was abusive."
In that same interview, Rieu also stated that Armstrong was regularly notified of anti-doping controls during his career, and that he was often given some time alone before submitting the requested samples. "The persons collecting the samples had some trouble carrying out unannounced controls without Armstrong benefiting from a 20-minute delay. He was warned about the controls every time. In 20 minutes, a lot of manipulation is possible," continued Rieu, also implicating the UCI and alleging the world governing body of cycling contributed to the scheme that made Armstrong's treachery possible. Armstrong has always denied allegations of doping and called the USADA case a witch hunt.
"In 2009, we drew up a report on how Armstrong's team was advantaged by a favouring treatment from the UCI inspectors. At the time, we were at odds with the UCI. Our role was marginal but we were aware of the difficulties the controllers had with the American cyclist," the Frenchman added.
Now, Fourneyron was adamant that the fight against doping was on the right track. But she also warned that those responsible for any cover-ups would be held responsible. "The Armstrong case shows that there are interests that can hold down the fight against doping. If there hadn't been a very strong will on the part of the independent authorities like USADA or AFLD, the case would not have moved forward.
"This procedure, when it will be concluded, will certainly shed some light on the moments where there have been flaws - and there is no doubt that there have been flaws."