Tour organizer says French report 'appears credible'

PARIS -- A French newspaper says Lance Armstrong used the
performance-enhancing drug EPO to help win his first Tour de France
in 1999, a report the seven-time Tour winner vehemently denied.

L'Equipe devoted four pages to its allegations, with a Tuesday
front-page headline "The Armstrong Lie." The paper said that
signs of EPO use showed up in Armstrong's urine six times during
the '99 race.

"Unfortunately, the witch hunt continues and tomorrow's article
is nothing short of tabloid journalism," Armstrong wrote on his
Web site. "I will simply restate what I have said many times: I
have never taken performance-enhancing drugs."

However, the Tour de France's director said Tuesday that
L'Equipe's report seemed "very complete, very professional, very
meticulous" and that it "appears credible."

"We are very shocked, very troubled by the revelations we read
this morning," Jean-Marie Leblanc told RTL radio. However, he
cautioned that Armstrong, his doctors and his aides should be heard
out before people make any final judgment.

Leblanc also said disciplinary action based on the L'Equipe account was unlikely. The paper's investigation was based solely on B samples -- the second of two samples used in doping tests. The A samples were used up in 1999 for analysis at the time.

The governing body of world cycling did not begin using a urine
test for EPO until 2001. For years, it had been impossible to
detect the drug, called erythropoietin, which builds endurance by
boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells.

EPO tests on the 1999 B urine samples were not carried out until
last year, when scientists performed research on them to fine-tune
EPO testing methods, the paper said.

The national anti-doping laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry, which
developed the EPO test and analyzed the urine samples in question,
said it could not confirm that the positive EPO results were

It noted that the samples were anonymous, bearing only a a
six-digit number to identify the rider, and could not be matched
with the name of any one cyclist.

However, L'Equipe said it was able to make the match. It printed
photos of what it said were official doping documents. On one side
of the page, it showed what it said were the results of EPO tests
from anonymous riders used for lab research. On the other, it
showed Armstrong's medical certificates, signed by doctors and
riders after doping tests -- and bearing the same identifying number
printed on the results.

The lab statement said it had promised to turn over its results
to the World Anti-Doping Agency "on condition that they could not
be used in any disciplinary proceeding."

"It will be very interesting to see what UCI does and what the
U.S. Cycling Federation does and what Lance Armstrong has to say," WADA chairman Dick Pound said. "If the evidence is seen as credible than yes, he has an obligation to come forward and
specifically give his comments, especially after his previous
comments that he has never used drugs.

"If anything were found, we couldn't do anything because we didn't even exist in 1999. But it's important that the truth must always be made clear," Pound added.

L'Equipe, whose parent company is closely linked to the Tour,
has frequently raised questions about how Armstrong could have made
his spectacular comeback from testicular cancer without using
performance enhancers. L'Equipe is owned by the Amaury Group whose
subsidiary, Amaury Sport Organization, organizes the Tour de France
and other sporting events.

A former L'Equipe journalist, Pierre Ballester, was co-author of
a book published last year that contained doping allegations
against Armstrong. He wrote the book with Sunday Times sportswriter
David Walsh.

In the book, "L.A. Confidential, the Secrets of Lance
Armstrong," one of the cyclist's former assistants claimed that
Armstrong once asked her to dispose of used syringes and give him
makeup to conceal needle marks on his arms.

Armstrong has taken libel action against The Sunday Times after
the British newspaper reprinted allegations in a review of the book
in June 2004. The case will go to trial in London's High Court in

Armstrong retired from cycling after his record seventh straight
Tour victory last month.

French Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour said he was deeply
saddened by the allegations, though he noted that they were
unconfirmed and never could be because of the lost A samples.

"It's a shock to learn this about a great champion," the
former Olympic champion fencer said. "This is certainly an element
that could tarnish his image."