JEFFREY BROWN: Just one month ago, Lance Armstrong stood atop the winner's podium in Paris for the final time, basking in his record-setting, seventh-consecutive Tour De France victor, but ever since his first win in 1999, after a death-defying battle with cancer, Armstrong has been dogged by accusations that he used performance enhancing drugs and that his invincibility was chemical dependent. He has vehemently denied the allegations.
In his parting address to the cycling world last month, Armstrong blasted his critics.
LANCE ARMSTRONG: And finally, the last thing I'll say for people that don't believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I'm sorry for you, I'm sorry you can't dream big, and I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles.
JEFFREY BROWN: But the miracles came into question again this week, when France's premier sports publication, L'Equipe, reported the results from a French drug-testing lab of new tests done on urine samples from Armstrong's 1999 race. According to the report, six of the seventeen samples tested positive for a banned substance called EPO. The other 11 samples no longer exist.
EPO boosts the red cell count in the bloodstream, making it possible for the body to process more oxygen, a critical advantage in cycling. Armstrong acknowledges using EPO as part of chemotherapy treatments in late 1996. But there is no chance it would have remained in his system until 1999. Though EPO has been banned since 1990, there was no reliable test for it until recent years.
The director of Tour De France, Jean-Marie Leblanc, called the report credible and said: "It is damning for Lance Armstrong and cycling in general. He owes explanations to us, to everyone who followed the tour. Today what L'Equipe revealed shows me that I was fooled and we were all fooled."
Lance Armstrong is among the most frequently tested athletes in all sports, and had never tested positive for any banned substance. He immediately criticized the latest lab work, saying that since more reliable samples no longer exist, he has no way to prove his innocence. Today, Armstrong won backing from USA Cycling, the governing body of the sport in this country. Its head called the allegations "completely without credibility."
LARRY KING: Tonight exclusive legendary athlete Lance Armstrong.
JEFFREY BROWN: Armstrong appeared last night on CNN's Larry King Live and labeled the charges part of an ongoing witch hunt.
LANCE ARMSTRONG: I try to ask people to sit in my seat and say, "okay, you know, a guy in a French -- in a Parisian laboratory opens up your sample, you know, Jean- Francois so and so, and he tests it. Nobody's there to observe. No protocol was followed. And then you get a phone call from a newspaper that says, "We found you to be positive six times for EPO." Well, since when did newspapers start governing sports?
JEFFREY BROWN: Armstrong attributes many of the allegations to a jealous sector of French media. The magazine L'Equipe, which has questioned Armstrong's performances in the past, is owned by the company which runs the Tour de France.
Armstrong did acknowledge that this particular charge comes at a critical time for American sports, amid the continuing story of steroid use in baseball. But he says there is only so much he can do to convince people that he is clean, and some may never believe him.
LANCE ARMSTRONG: It's always going to be a case of "did he or didn't he," but it's always been a case of "did he or didn't he?" I mean, this is not the first time somebody's come along and said, "Ah, he's doped, ah, he rode too fast, ah, his story is too miraculous. No way, he's doped." This has been going on for seven years. And I'd suspect it will continue.
JEFFREY BROWN: On that last point Armstrong is no doubt right. The documents purporting to verify the positive tests have been forwarded for review to the World Anti-Doping Agency, the organization which regulates drug testing in international sports.