Agency challenges Armstrong to have urine samples retested

PARIS -- It's just like old times for Lance Armstrong.

Hours after the French anti-doping authority challenged the seven-time Tour de France champion to agree to retest his 1999 urine samples to see whether a French newspaper was right when it reported they contained a banned substance, Armstrong rejected the notion, lashing out at the agency's leader, Pierre Bordry.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Bordry is new to these issues and his proposal is based on a fundamental failure to understand the facts. In 2005, some research was conducted on urine samples left over from the 1998 and 1999 Tours de France," Armstrong said in a statement Wednesday night. "That research was the subject of an independent investigation, and the conclusions of the investigation were that the 1998 and 1999 Tour de France samples have not been maintained properly, have been compromised in many ways and even three years ago could not be tested to provide any meaningful results.

"There is simply nothing that I can agree to that would provide any relevant evidence about 1999," he said.

Even so, the proposal renewed debate about one of the most contested questions surrounding Armstrong: whether he was clean when he won. He has always insisted that he was, and his new team, Astana, is hiring a drug-testing expert, who will post Armstrong's results on the internet, to try to silence doubters.

In a statement, the agency proposed the rider "prove his good faith" by agreeing to retesting of his samples from the 1999 Tour, the first in Armstrong's record string of seven wins.

The samples are frozen in a drug testing laboratory in the suburbs of Paris. They've been a source of controversy since L'Equipe reported in 2005 that a new round of tests on the "B" samples found EPO, a blood-boosting hormone that enhances endurance.

The agency said it was acting in the interests "of objectivity and of justice and to allow the cyclist Lance Armstrong to cut short the rumors concerning him, if they are unfounded."

In drug testing, urine is divided into "A" and "B" samples, and both must show traces of a banned substance for the test to be declared positive.

But only remains from six "B" samples have been kept from Armstrong's 1999 Tour, the French agency said. So even if the "B" samples came back positive in new testing, there are no "A" samples left against which to compare results.

Armstrong said then he was the victim of a "witch hunt." A Dutch lawyer appointed by cycling's governing body later cleared Armstrong. But Dick Pound, who then led the World Anti-Doping Agency, said the lawyer's findings were full of holes. And in his statement, Armstrong said that independent investigation recommended the issues be taken before an independent tribunal.

"Two years ago I agreed to have all of these issues aired and decided by that tribunal, but WADA and the French Ministry refused," Armstrong said. "If Mr. Bordry would now like to re-examine the past, he must start with presenting the issues of the misconduct of the French laboratory, the French Ministry and WADA before a proper tribunal."

Bordry told L'Equipe he wanted to act as "a referee" between the newspaper and Armstrong. But Bordry already seemed to have an opinion, speaking to the newspaper of samples "which contain erythropoietin [EPO]."

"I want this comeback to take place in the best circumstances," L'Equipe quoted him as saying in its Wednesday edition. "This way, he will perhaps have the chance to affirm that he never cheated during his brilliant career."