Armstrong applauds investigation, says he always competes drug-free

U.S. Postal drug inquiry continues

Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2000

PARIS (AP) -- France's sports minister says she can't comply with a request from cycling's governing body to destroy Tour de France riders' frozen urine samples because judicial authorities want them for an investigation of Lance Armstrong's team.

A magistrate ordered two searches for ''the investigation of U.S. Postal ... in which the urine samples were seized and placed under seal,'' Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Armstrong came back from testicular cancer to win the 1999 and 2000 Tours. He has repeatedly denied taking banned performance-enhancing drugs, and U.S. Postal Service officials have said the team respects anti-doping rules.

Armstrong's agent said the cyclist was thrilled with the decision because the urine could now be tested and help prove Armstrong competed drug-free.

''It's the best news in a long time,'' Bill Stapleton said. ''We are willing to roll the dice on testing because we know Lance is clean. He has nothing to hide.''

Stapleton, in Washington for a U.S. Olympic Committee meeting, said Armstrong was losing sleep because of worries over drug allegations.

''I don't think he can adequately prepare for the next Tour unless this is settled,'' Stapleton said.

Meanwhile, the USOC released a statement from Greg Strock that Armstrong had no involvement in or knowledge of doping that Strock claims to have unwittingly undergone a decade ago. Strock has filed a lawsuit against USA Cycling in the case.

''I would hope that this statement will end any discussion of a relationship between my lawsuit and Lance,'' Strock said. ''There simply is none.''

Based on an anonymous tip, judicial authorities opened a preliminary investigation last month into whether the U.S. Postal Service team used banned substances during the Tour.

Earlier Saturday, Buffet said she could not have the urine samples destroyed.

''From the moment judicial authorities decide to put them under seal, no one can touch them,'' Buffet told France-Info Radio.

In a letter to Buffet last week, International Cycling Union president Hein Verbruggen said the samples should be destroyed because they could not be used to penalize cheating riders.

''The (urine) test has not been approved,'' he said. ''And we do not know the effects of six months of freezing on the reliability of test results.''

The ICU decided last month to keep the samples, even though a reliable test for the banned performance-enhancing hormone EPO has yet to be approved.

The urine samples were taken from Tour de France riders in July and frozen in anticipation of International Olympic Committee approval for an EPO urine test developed by a French laboratory.

EPO, or erythropoietin, enhances endurance by boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells. The substance was at the heart of the drug scandal at the 1998 Tour de France.

Although the IOC approved a combined blood and urine test for the Sydney Olympics, it has not approved a urine-only test.

''To carry on this battle, judicial authorities need proof, so they want to be able to obtain a certain number of frozen samples and asked us to hold the rest of the samples for their investigation,'' Buffet said in Saturday's radio interview.

She is to meet Monday with Verbruggen.



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