Leblanc: why are you coming back, Lance?

Former Tour director says return could harm cycling’s reputation

Former Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc has questioned Lance Armstrong's motives for returning to racing next year.

Leblanc, Tour director for all of Armstrong's seven titles, told the Velo Star Review that the Texan took everyone by surprise by announcing his intention to bid for an eighth Tour de France in 2009.

"It seems that you want to collect funds for your foundation into cancer research. That's a laudable intention, of course, but was it necessary to get out your jersey and racing shorts given the revenue your conferences make in the United States?" Leblanc asked.

“We former riders generally have respect for winners, but that's not always the case with the public and above all the media, who have heavy suspicions about you.

"The hounds will be let loose, column inches will be written, images repeated and debate sparked about the one word which has petrified our passion over the past ten years: doping."

LeBlanc referred to the persistent allegations of doping that have dogged Armstrong's career, his loudest detractor being French sports newspaper L'Equipe, which claimed six urine samples from his 1999 Tour contained the blood-boosting drug EPO.

The rider himself has always denied doping and the UCI cleared him in 2006.

However, France's national anti-doping agency (AFLD) has today offered to test the allegedly suspect samples from 1999.

"The way these samples are preserved and the volume of them mean that you can do an analysis for the possible presence of EPO on at least five stages of the 1999 Tour de France,” said AFLD in a statement.

"AFLD offers Lance Armstrong an analysis of his samples from the 1999 Tour de France to prove his good faith."

It added that, should the tests come back positive, there could be no anti-doping disciplinary procedures against Armstrong because of the eight-year moratorium on doping offences.

Meanwhile, The US Anti-doping Agency (USADA) has said it’s up to the International Cycling Union (UCI) to determine when Armstrong will be eligible to return to competitive racing.

USADA confirmed yesterday that Armstrong's six-month probation period officially began in August, when he registered with their drug-testing programme.

"The issue of eligibility is set by each sport," said USADA spokesperson Erin Hannan. "He has been in the testing pool since August 1."

Armstrong needs to be included in USADA's testing pool for six months before his cycling comeback becomes official, meaning he won't be allowed to race until the beginning of February.

But Armstrong is hoping for an early return to compete in January's Tour Down Under in Australia.

Hannan said Armstrong must check in with USADA on a regular basis. "He requested to be reinstated into the out-of-competition testing pool and submitted his whereabouts to us," she said. "There is no advance notice. He needs to be available."

Hannan said she didn't know if Armstrong had been tested already, or if there was a minimum number of tests an athlete must undergo during the six-month probation.

© AFP 2008

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