by Andy Scott, AFP
PORTO-VECCHIO, France (AFP) – Tour de France riders on Friday dismissed claims by shamed U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong that it was “impossible” to win the sport’s most famous race without doping, saying his claims hit at their credibility.
Cadel Evans, who won the Tour in 2011, said he had shown it was possible to triumph without cheating, amid claims the focus was being shifted away from the start of this year’s historic 100th edition of the race, which begins on Saturday.
“I think the opposite. I am proof that that is not true,” the Australian BMC rider told a news conference in Porto-Vecchio, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
“I sometimes read in the press what Armstrong says and I respect him as a human being but really I just focus on doing my own job as best I can and fortunately we are supported by a great group of people.
“We try to do our job as we see fit and within the rules of course.”
Evans’ teammate, the Belgian Philippe Gilbert, blamed the media for seizing on the comments just as riders prepared for the race.
Team Sky, which includes favourite Chris Froome, said they did not want to comment.
Armstrong was asked in an interview with French daily Le Monde published on Friday whether it was possible to win without taking performance-enhancing drugs when he was riding.
He responded: “That depends on the races that you wanted to win.”
“The Tour de France? No. Impossible to win without doping because the Tour is an endurance event where oxygen is decisive,” he was quoted as saying by the French daily.
He added: “To take one example, EPO (erythropoetin) will not help a sprinter to win a 100m but it will be decisive for a 10,000m runner. It’s obvious.”
Armstrong, who won the Tour a record seven times between 1999 and 2005, later said his claims only applied to the period in which he dominated the sport.
“99-05. I was clear with Stephane Mandard [the sports editor of Le Monde] on this. Today? I have no idea. I’m hopeful it’s possible,” he wrote on his Twitter account @lancearmstrong.
Armstrong was last year exposed as a serial drug cheat in a devastating U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that plunged cycling into crisis about the extent of drug-taking in the peloton.
The Texan rider, who insisted for years that he did not take performance-enhancing drugs, was stripped of his Tour titles and banned from the sport for life.