Armstrong unfazed by Landis claims on eve of Tour
ROTTERDAM, Netherlands – Lance Armstrong heads into his last Tour de France intent on winning a record eighth title and motivated by former teammate Floyd Landis’ accusations that he used banned drugs during his career.
The 38-year-old Armstrong said Thursday he is in a better shape than he was last year when he capped his return to competition with a third-place finish in cycling’s showcase event following a 3 1/2-year retirement.
Armstrong promised that he won’t let any allegation by Landis “deter me. In fact, in the end, it will be the opposite. It’s going to inspire me.”
Landis was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping. He recently said in emails to cycling officials and sponsors that Armstrong tested positive for EPO at the Tour de Suisse in 2002 and paid off former International Cycling Union boss Hein Verbruggen to keep it quiet. Armstrong won the 2001 Swiss race, but did not compete there in 2002.
Landis also accused Armstrong of teaching other riders to cheat.
“I don’t want to get into it. It’s not worth it,” Armstrong said. “I did my first Tour in 1993 and now it’s 2010. And I won a stage in 1993 as a 20-year-old. I’ve been at the front of my sport since the day I showed up. And in the process, there have been a ton of questions and a ton of scrutiny and a lot of controls and a lot of investigations. And I’m still here. I don’t see any other example in cycling or in any other sports.”
Armstrong and Landis rode together for three years with the U.S. Postal team. Landis left in 2005 to join Phonak.
“I understand that media love the sensationalist stories and they love the salacious and the ones that include accusations, that include all the blood and sex and drugs,” Armstrong said in a 45-minute interview before the team’s official presentation. “They love that. But at the end of the day, I think my career speaks for itself.”
The Tour starts Saturday in the Dutch port of Rotterdam with a 5 1/2-mile prologue. Armstrong confirmed it will be his last Tour and said he was likely to ride only those races related to his anticancer charity foundation next year.
Landis’ allegations reportedly have drawn the attention of U.S. Food and Drug Administration agent Jeff Novitzky, the lead investigator in the BALCO doping case.
Armstrong said Novitzky had not contacted him or his lawyers and denied reports contending his former wife Kristin decided to cooperate with him, saying she and the cancer survivor have “a very strong relationship.”
“I’m not sure he would call me,” Armstrong said, referring to Novitzky. “We haven’t heard.”
Armstrong says he is making this Tour his finale because he is tired of being away from his family. He has four children and girlfriend Anna Hansen is expecting his fifth child.
“It’s just a family decision,” he said. “Like I told the people that asked about it, at RadioShack, friends, that came from pressure from my kids. I’m away all the time. Not all the time, but enough time. Even at these moments, I don’t need to miss them anymore.”
Armstrong’s season has been hampered by illness and a crash at the Tour of California. Still, he believes he can derail overwhelming favorite Alberto Contador, who is trying to win a third Tour de France.
“I’m at the top of the form that I can have now,” Armstrong said. “At my age and with the setbacks we had in the spring.”
Armstrong broke his collarbone last year in his first comeback season. On May 20, he hurt his elbow and was cut under his left eye in the crash in California. He withdrew from Milan-San Remo in March, citing gastroenteritis, and pulled out of the Circuit de la Sarthe with a stomach illness.
“Athletically, professionally, I feel good,” Armstrong said. “Better than last year. More motivated than last year. So from a sportsman’s perspective, I would like to go out as a winner. That’s not easy to do with the good field we have here.”
When riding within Astana last year, Armstrong and Contador had a tense relationship that turned into an open war of words. But Armstrong said his team’s goal this year was not to “destroy anybody’s race.”
Still, he appeared to try to get inside Contador’s head.
“I still think that there is potentially team issues inside Astana,” Armstrong said. “It’s no secret. How does that affect the composition of the team, the tactics of the team? Those are the X-factors that normally shouldn’t but sometimes do.”
Contador will have a very strong Astana team this year that features Alexandre Vinokourov, who is coming back to the Tour after a two-year ban for blood doping. Armstrong’s other rivals include Frank and Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso.
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