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The day after L'Equipe printed allegations that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong used the blood-boosting product EPO both before and during his first Tour success in 1999, reaction to the news has become the main focus of attention. Unsurprisingly where Armstrong is concerned, opinion has polarised, often along national lines, with German tabloid Bild labelling the American "a rip-off merchant" and rewriting the Tour's roll of honour in its latest issue, while many of Armstrong's peers have questioned the timing of the news and the motives behind the testing of samples that are six years old.
Some new details have emerged about the tests that have been undertaken at the French National Laboratory for the Detection of Doping (LNDD) at Chatenay Malabry. LNDD director Profession Jacques de Ceaurriz told French radio station Europe1 that about 15 samples from the 1999 Tour had shown evidence of EPO use, while tests undertaken on samples from the 1998 race revealed about 40 with traces of EPO.
The World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited LNDD lab had been testing samples from those races as part of an ongoing scheme to ensure the robustness of the urine-based EPO test that they themselves developed in 2000. More than 200 samples from the 1998 and 1999 Tours have been tested since December last year, with the definitive results passed to WADA and the French Ministry of Sport last Monday.
The scientists at the LNDD have repeatedly stressed that they do not know the identities of the riders who, L'Equipe is alleging, were using EPO in 1998 and 1999. Up to now, L'Equipe has only identified Armstrong, based on their own research, but in today's edition of the French sports daily it is claimed that samples provided by no less than four riders in that year's prologue, including Armstrong, showed evidence of EPO use.
Marie-George Buffet, the French sports minister in 1999, encapsulated the comments of many when she said she was concerned about "the publication of just one name. Care must be taken not to damage just one individual."
Meanwhile, the French legal representative for SCA Promotions, currently involved in a legal case with Armstrong after withholding a payment of five million dollars based on his Tour successes, said that this new development is likely to change the complexion of that case. Mr Thibault de Montbrial said that if it could be shown that "Armstrong lied when he signed the contract, by omitting to reveal that he was, for example, taking banned products, it could cost him very dear indeed. Because lying, in the United States, is a capital offence."
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