Lance Armstrong hasn't ruled out a possible come back to the Tour de France 2006 - causing the cycling world to react, as well as the French paper L'Equipe, which initiated the controversy by reporting it was in the possession of evidence that the seven-times Tour winner took EPO in 1999.
"Armstrong threatens to come back" was the headline of the article published in Wednesday's edition, which detailed the news to the French readers. "Publicity? Bluff? Or simply provocation?," it asked. "If ethics, the essence of sports competition itself, wasn't concerned, one could almost smile about it," the paper continued, reporting that Armstrong said he would consider a return to racing "to piss the French off."
"Armstrong has thus definitely chosen to put the affair in the context of Franco-American hostilities," L'Equipe replied, reminding its readers that the American cycling legend had spoken of a witch-hunt by the French media, the Ministry of Sports and other institutions.
Tour de France race director Jean-Marie Leblanc didn't want to make a statement. "I'll react when it's official," he said. Vice-director Christian Prudhomme, who will be the head of the Tour after 2006, added, "For us, Lance Armstrong is retired since the evening of July 25. If he lets us know officially that he's willing to compete in the Tour de France again, we will listen to him."
As for Armstrong's former colleagues in the peloton? His biggest rival, Jan Ullrich, does not believe that Armstrong was serious about his statements. "After his farewell party in Paris, I can't imagine that he'll participate in the Tour once again," Der Kaiser said. "I'm certainly not putting myself under pressure."
But former team-mate and Spanish Vuelta victory contender Roberto Heras welcomed the news. "A comeback is the only good answer," he said. "But then there will be the problem that the French will undoubtedly produce new accusations after that season."