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French sports daily L'Equipe has claimed in its Tuesday edition that seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong used the blood-boosting product EPO both before and during the 1999 Tour.
The allegations stem from research being undertaken by the French national laboratory for the detection of doping at Chatenay Malabry (LNDD), on the southern outskirts of Paris, with a view to refining the testing criteria of the EPO test, which has been questioned in certain cases. As part of the research, a number of urine samples kept in cold storage since the 1999 have been tested by the LNDD for the presence of EPO, and 12 of them gave a positive result. L'Equipe is claiming, based on its own research undertaken over the past four months, that six of the 12 numbered, but unnamed samples belong to Armstrong.
Faced with yet another attack on his integrity by the French press, Armstrong has has once again denied ever using any performance-enhancing product and has called the article "nothing short of tabloid journalism".
During the 1999 Tour, Armstrong was drug tested no less than 15 times. Fourteen of the tests were negative, while the other, taken on July 4 after a stage to Challans revealed the use of a corticoid. It was later revealed that Armstrong had unwittingly taken the product in a cream used to treat a saddle boil, and the International Cycling Union cleared him. Armstrong went on to win his first Tour de France, and one seen as a 'Tour of renewal' after the EPO-enduced crises of the 1998 edition.
It was not until the 2001 Tour of Flanders that the UCI approved the use of an International Olympic Committee-approved EPO test.
Following L'Equipe's allegations, the LNDD has said that it does not know whether any of the 12 samples that have shown evidence of EPO belong to Armstrong. They have been working with numbered samples; the UCI and other sporting authorities have a list of names to go with the numbers. All the LNDD will confirm is that they have detected the use of EPO in 12 samples from the 1999 Tour, as well as confirming that they believe the testing method to be completely trustworthy.
LNDD director Jacques de Ceaurriz confirmed that the Chatenay Malabry lab had been working on samples from both the 1998 and 1999 Tours, and that it had sent the results of its analyses to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). "We have no doubt about the validity of our results," he confirmed.
The decision on whether to act - or indeed whether it is in fact possible to act at all - on the positive tests revealed by the LNDD's research is now in the hands of the WADA. As Armstrong points out in his statement, L'Equipe "even admits in its own article that the science in question here is faulty and that I have no way to defend myself. They state: 'There will therefore be no counter-exam nor regulatory prosecutions, in a strict sense, since defendant's rights cannot be respected.'"
Because only the B samples that were not tested during the 1998 and 1999 Tours were put into cold storage, no second sample exists as a control. In addition, neither the world anti-doping code nor WADA existed in 1999, so it remains to be seen whether the organisation could take action if it felt it was necessary.
However, WADA and its affiliated agencies have shown during the Balco case in the United States that they are ready and willing to take retroactive action against athletes when evidence suggests wrong-doing. American sprinter Kelli White was recently stripped of the 100 and 200-metre titles she won at the 2003 world athletics championship despite having passed all drug controls at the time.
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