Yesterday's accusations against Lance Armstrong by French sports newspaper l'Equipe have generated a storm of reaction from within and outside the world of cycling. Reactions have ranged from calls for Armstrong to explain himself, and claims of vindication, to statements of support for the seven-time Tour champion.
At this stage it seems unlikely that either the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or the UCI intend to take any action against Armstrong in the light of l'Equipe's claims that retrospective testing of his urine samples from the 1999 Tour de France showed indicators of the use of EPO.
WADA head Dick Pound, told Gazzetta dello Sport, "It will be interesting to see what the UCI and the American cycling federation will do and what Lance Armstrong has to say. If the tests are credible, Armstrong is obliged to give explanations, above all because he has always denied taking doping substances. If something is revealed, we can't do anything because we didn't exist in 1999. It is, however, important that the truth be established."
In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, Pound added, "If the report had come out about this year's Tour de France, I'd be on the phone right now asking what they were doing about this and demanding documents. This shows why we want to save samples for eight years. Athletes and coaches who cheat should know they will live in a state of uncertainty for years as testing methods improve."
UCI president Hein Verbruggen is taking a wait-and-see approach, telling Gazzetta dello Sport, "Before I pass judgements it's necessary to wait and see if all this is true. It's all unpleasant, but now it pertains only Armstrong and France: we could intervene only in the presence of legal actions. As far as those are concerned, it's only words at the moment."
Tour de France director Jean-Marie LeBlanc said it would take a decision from the UCI for Armstrong's 1999 victory to be downgraded. "We are very unsettled and shocked by the revelations in L'Equipe," he said. "We must wait for the answer from Lance Armstrong, his doctors and advisers before making a judgements. But indisputably I feel disconcerted and disappointed like many other sports people.
"I guess if there was a sanction from the UCI, somehow the Tour directors could work with the ruling body to sanction Armstrong and ask for a downgrading."
Armstrong's long-time friend and mentor Eddy Merckx isn't putting his faith in the press. "Armstrong has always assured my that he has never doped," he told Sportwereld. "If I have to choose between what a journalist writes and Lance's word, I hold my faith in Armstrong. People also have to give him the chance to defend himself."
Jan Ullrich, who perhaps has most to gain -in terms of 'moral victories' at least - if any of Armstrong's Tour victories become marked with an asterisk, heard the news over breakfast yesterday, and wrote in his diary, "I had already filled up a bowl with muesli and fruit and had sat down at the breakfast table with Matse Kessler, when Luuc [T-Mobile press office Luuc Eisenga] came in and broke the news to us. The Gerolsteiner riders were at the table beside us, and they were of course, just as surprised with the report as we were."
"The news spread like wildfire and it was the big topic of conversation in the peloton during the day. Everybody heard something about it and we discussed it among each other. Right now, I, like everyone else, am not fully informed on the situation so I am not going to make any hasty judgements on what is just speculation. But it is clear that I would be very disappointed if there was truth behind the reports."
But on the other side of the divide, long-time adversary Filippo Simeoni, the rider who sued Armstrong for libel after Armstrong accused him of being a liar over his evidence in the case against sports doctor Michele Ferrari, is claiming vindication. "This is the proof that I've always told the truth," said Simeoni. "I have taken my responsibility in this case."
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