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Following a flurry of speculation last week that Lance Armstrong might return to competition and the Tour de France next season and curtail his recent retirement, the seven-time Tour de France winner has made it loud and clear that he isn't planning any such comeback.
Speaking to the Austin American Statesman's Suzanne Halliburton, Armstrong said he had had enough of the "crooks and criminals" involved in cycling and was sticking firmly to his retirement plans. "I've got my kids, my fiance, my work. Upon further review, why should I come back and deal with crooks and criminals and people like Dick Pound, who have no ethics," Armstrong stated.
Armstrong's feud with World Anti-Doping Agency chief Pound is long-standing, and stems from comments the Canadian lawyer made about cycling being one of the dirtiest sports in the world. Armstrong challenged Pound over that claim in an open letter printed in a number of sports publications in March 2004.
Armstrong's confirmation of his retirement comes on the back of the scandal that has erupted since French sports newspaper L'Equipe claimed earlier this month that the six of the American's samples from the 1999 Tour de France had shown evidence of the blood-boosting product EPO. Armstrong has consistently stated that there was no EPO present in the samples when he delivered them on the way to his first Tour success.
"No way could I go to France. I wouldn't get a fair shake in France on the roadside, in the doping controls or in the (drug) lab," Armstrong told Halliburton. "I think it's better that way. I'm happy with the way my career went and ended, and I'm not coming back."
The feeling within the Armstrong camp that the L'Equipe allegations are simply part of a French conspiracy to destroy the Texan's legacy has been voiced by the ex-rider's agent, Bill Stapleton, who has claimed that the drug testing system has failed dramatically. "This is going to trickle all the way up. L'Equipe was a mouthpiece used by people up much higher," said Stapleton during a conference call that included Armstrong. "It goes to the Ministry of Sport, to the Olympic bid, it goes to WADA and it goes to Dick Pound.
"We leave open the possibility that someone sabotaged those samples," he said. "Someone put EPO in them if the test is accurate."
During the same conference call on Thursday, Armstrong admitted that he had given L'Equipe his permission to view his confidential testing forms from the Tour. "We authorised the release for a particular purpose," Stapleton explained. "They were supposed to look at the forms to see if there was a medical exemption. We assumed they would go and look at the forms and not leave with them."
Armstrong said he had "nothing to hide" when asked why he had given his permission for the forms to be viewed by L'Equipe.
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