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Armstrong on newspaper's accusations: 'This thing stinks'

'Slimy' French journalism nothing new, cyclist says

Armstrong questions the science behind testing years-old samples, with no controls in place.


Lance Armstrong
Tour de France

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Lance Armstrong remained steadfast Thursday that he has never used performance-enhancing drugs, and he called a French newspaper's allegations that he used a banned substance in 1999 -- when he won the first of seven Tour de France titles -- "preposterous."

"This thing stinks," Armstrong told CNN's "Larry King Live" in his first television interview since the allegations were made. "I've said it for longer than seven years: I have never doped. I can say it again. But I've said it for seven years; it doesn't help. But the fact of the matter is I haven't (doped)."

Armstrong, a cancer survivor, added: "If you consider my situation: a guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence, why would I then enter into a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That's crazy. I would never do that. No. No way."

Armstrong said he has dealt with "slimy" journalism from the French for the last seven years and "this is perhaps the worst of it." (Watch exclusive video of Armstrong recounting the journalist's phone call.)

The allegations emerged Tuesday when a French daily sports newspaper, L'Equipe, reported that a four-month investigation found that six of Armstrong's urine samples given during the 1999 race tested positive for the red-cell booster EPO. The article was headlined: "The Armstrong Lie."

Armstrong noted that earlier this year, when he announced his retirement, that the same paper wrote, "Never has an athlete's retirement been so welcome."

He blasted critics who have said the evidence is clear, insisting it is nothing more than a case of he-said, she-said.

"What else can it be?" Armstrong said. "Do you think I'm going to trust some guy in a French lab to open my samples and say they're positive and announce that to the world and not give me the chance to defend myself? That's ludicrous. There is no way you can do that."

Armstrong -- who survived testicular cancer that spread through his body and into his brain to become the greatest cyclist in the sport's history -- said he did use EPO as part of his chemotherapy treatment in late 1996, but never as part of his cycling training regimen.

EPO is a drug that boosts red blood cell counts, allowing endurance athletes to increase their oxygen-carrying capacity to enable them to go farther and faster. It is often given to patients suffering from blood-related cancers and other forms of the disease.

Armstrong also questioned the science behind years-old samples. He said he had provided a total of 17 "B" samples in 1999.

"So why are six of them positive and the other 11 aren't? I'm saying there were 17 samples. So, if the drug would stay around for two, three, four weeks, we have 17 samples given, and only six of them positive. What happened to the other 11?"

Earlier in the day, organizers of the Tour de France said they remained shocked by the latest allegations.

"The Tour de France believes that the results of the lab are 100 percent reliable. It's the best lab and a lab known for doing such testing," Matthieu Desplates, a press attache for the Tour de France, told CNN in a phone interview.

When organizers learned of the report, Desplates said, "Everyone felt betrayed."

If the allegations do indeed prove to be true, he added, "Armstrong looked into people's eyes and lied."

L'Equipe's investigation was based on the second set of samples, called "B" samples, provided during the drug-testing procedure in 1999. The "A" samples no longer exist and Tour officials have said they cannot enforce any punishment without them.

According to the paper, the allegations took six years to surface because EPO was undetectable in the 1999 tests. Last year, the French laboratory at Chatenay-Malabry -- one of the best in the world -- began conducting experiments to improve its banned-substance detection capabilities, according to L'Equipe.

The lab conducted its tests randomly on anonymous samples, with only six-digit numbers to identify the riders. L'Equipe said it was able to confirm the positive tests were Armstrong's by matching his medical certificates with the numbers on the samples. Another 15 samples from other riders from the 1999 race also have reportedly tested positive.

Armstrong blasted the protocol used in the testing, saying how was he to trust a French person in a laboratory where no one else was present to observe the testing method.

"If you considered the science, if you consider the protocol involved in drug testing, if you consider the standards that have been set over dozens of years, you know that none of that was followed here," he told CNN.

"Since when did newspapers start governing sports?"

Armstrong also had harsh words for Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France, who told L'Equipe the Tour was "fooled" by Armstrong.

"For Jean-Marie to say that was a shock to me," Armstrong said. "I actually spoke to him that very same day for about 30 minutes on the telephone. I called him at his house in Paris and he didn't say any of those things to me. In fact, he was just sort of hemmed and hawed and said, 'I'm surprised.' I said, 'Yes, I'm surprised, too. I think we're all surprised.'"

In his remarks to L'Equipe, Leblanc said, "The Tour is shocked. ... I am among those who took into account his physical and psychological transformation after his cancer. I thought that the morphology and the character could explain Armstrong's performance. For 1999, we were fooled."

Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion and an Armstrong rival, responded to the allegations by saying: "For the moment, we don't have all the necessary and exact information, which is why I don't want to rush to any hasty conclusions. But it's clear that I would be very disappointed if the information in the article is confirmed."

CNN's Alanne Orjoux contributed to this story.

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