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WORLD SPORT

Armstrong denies drug allegations

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Armstrong's victory in the 1999 Tour de France capped a remarkable recovery from cancer.

LONDON, England -- Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong has denied allegations reported on Tuesday in the French sports daily L'Equipe that he took the performance enhancing drug EPO during the 1999 Tour de France.

L'Equipe claimed that six urine samples given by the American in 1999 had subsequently been found to be positive in 2004 by a French laboratory using more advanced testing techniques.

A statement on Armstrong's Web site issued a strong denial of the claims.

"I will simply restate what I have said many times. I have never taken performance enhancing drugs," it read.

"Unfortunately, the witch hunt continues and (Tuesday's) article is nothing short of tabloid journalism.

"The paper 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,'" the statement concluded.

Armstrong retired after winning his record seventh Tour de France in July. The 1999 Tour win was his first after making a well-documented recovery from advanced cancer.

But the 33-year-old Texan has been dogged by a whispering campaign that his remarkable cycling achievements were aided by drugs despite never failing a doping test.

He has always fiercely protected his reputation and is involved in a number of legal actions against media organizations who have reported allegations of doping.

The most high profile is his libel action against The Sunday Times after the British newspaper reprinted allegations in a review of the book "LA Confidential, the secrets of Lance Armstrong" in June 2004.

A former L'Equipe journalist, Pierre Ballester, and Sunday Times sportswriter David Walsh co-wrote the book that contained doping allegations against Armstrong.

The case will go to trial in London's High Court in November.

L'Equipe is owned by the Amaury Group whose subsidiary, Amaury Sport Organization, organizes the Tour de France and other sporting events.

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The newspaper, claiming it had access to laboratory documents, splashed the headline "Armstrong's Lie" on its front page Tuesday.

It reported that 12 samples taken on the 1999 Tour, six of them from Armstrong, had shown "indisputable" traces of EPO, or erythropoietin.

The retrospective tests on the frozen urine samples were allegedly carried out in 2004 by the French national testing laboratory of Chatenay-Malabry near Paris, the newspaper reported.

No details were given of the other riders alleged to have tested positive.

There was also no explanation about the delay in announcing the results or about any possible degradation in the samples.

EPO is a natural hormone produced in the kidneys that increases the blood's ability to absorb and carry oxygen, thereby increasing an athlete's stamina in endurance events.

Cycling's world governing body, the UCI, has fought an often uphill battle against the use of drugs in the professional peloton and its president Hein Verbruggen offered a cautious reaction on Tuesday.

"We have to wait and see if this is true," he told Reuters.

"Only then will we be able to ask ourselves whether there should be any legal action and whether this is a further blow for cycling.

"I have to say this is not pleasant but, for the moment, it only involves Lance Armstrong and France."

Armstrong, who enjoys worldwide celebrity status, spent last Saturday on a two-hour bicycle ride with fellow Texan U.S. President George W. Bush.

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