Lance Armstrong returns to haunt cycling on eve of Tour de France
Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong returned to haunt the Tour de France on the eve of the 100th running of the race as he once again raised the spectre of doping.
The Texan, stripped of the record seven Tour titles he won between 1999 and 2005 after admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs, created a storm by giving an interview to French daily newspaper Le Monde and then claiming his comments were presented out of context.
A bold headline on the newspaper this morning read: "The Tour de France? Impossible to win without doping."
But Armstrong then took to Twitter to insist he had only answered questions relating to the years in which he was competing for the famous yellow jersey, while saying he was "hopeful" current riders could win by legitimate means.
"99-05. I was clear with @StephaneMandard on this," Armstrong wrote, referring to the Le Monde journalist.
"Today? I have no idea. I'm hopeful it's possible (to win without drugs)."
Armstrong's comments, and the initial portrayal of them as relating to the Tour today, had earlier brought a strong response from Pat McQuaid, the president of the sport's world governing body the UCI.
In the interview, Armstrong suggested that doping had been so widespread in the sport a decade ago that only those involved could hope to contend.
"My name was taken out of the palmares (list of achievements) but the Tour was held between 1999 and 2005 wasn't it?" he said.
"There must be a winner then. Who is he? Nobody came forward to claim my jerseys."
Armstrong spent years vehemently denying repeated claims that he had doped, pointing to the fact he never failed a drugs test.
But the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) continued to pursue a case against him, and last year published a report describing his doping programme as "the most sophisticated in the history of sport".
Armstrong subsequently admitted doping and was stripped of his Tour titles, while being banned for life. The Texan feels like he was made a scapegoat by USADA chief Travis Tygart, and hit back in the interview.
"I did not invent doping. Sorry, Travis," he said.
"And (doping) has not stopped with me. I just took part in the system.
"The USADA 'reasoned decision' perfectly managed to destroy a man's life but it has not benefited cycling at all."
The 41-year-old also hit out at McQuaid, claiming the Irishman - currently facing a re-election challenge from British Cycling's Brian Cookson to remain as the UCI's figurehead - must go if cycling is to clean up.
"(UCI president) Pat McQuaid can say and think what he wants. Things just cannot change as long as McQuaid stays in power," Armstrong said.
"The UCI refuses to establish a 'truth and reconciliation commission' because the testimony that everyone would want to hear would bring McQuaid, (his predecessor) Hein Verbruggen and the whole institution down."
McQuaid then released a statement of his own which read: "It is very sad that Lance Armstrong has decided to make this statement on the eve of the Tour de France.
"However, I can tell him categorically that he is wrong. His comments do absolutely nothing to help cycling.
"The culture within cycling has changed since the Armstrong era and it is now possible to race and win clean.
"Riders and teams owners have been forthright in saying that it is possible to win clean - and I agree with them.
"Cycling today has the most sophisticated anti-doping infrastructure in sport. Measures such as the introduction of the blood passport, the whereabouts system and the 'no-needle' policy are the backbone of our relentless fight against doping.
"Armstrong's views and opinions are shaped by his own behaviour and time in the peloton. Cycling has now moved on.
"The key thing is that the whole culture in cycling has undergone a complete sea-change. We may not yet have eradicated doping completely - unfortunately there will always be some riders who persist - but we are catching them, and the attitude in the peloton has switched against them.
"We will never turn back - and my work to ensure that we have a clean sport is unrelenting.
"In addition, the UCI is totally committed to conducting an independent audit into its behaviour during the years when Armstrong was winning the Tour. The UCI's invitation to WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) to work with us on this stands.
"If WADA will not, however, the UCI will press ahead itself and appoint independent experts to carry out this audit.
"Once the audit is completed, the UCI remains totally committed to some form of 'truth process' for professional cycling.
"As I have said on numerous occasions, I have nothing to hide and no fear of any investigation or truth and reconciliation process. If Armstrong - or indeed anyone else - has evidence to the contrary, he should produce it now and put a stop to this ongoing damage to cycling."