As Lance Armstrong ended his final Tour de France yesterday, the appetite to explore his past is waning -- at least among the French.
The record seven-time champion’s former teammate Floyd Landis, stripped of his 2006 Tour title for cheating, said in May that he and Armstrong were among members of a U.S. Postal Service-bankrolled team who used drugs to improve performance. Federal prosecutors, who are examining the allegations, subpoenaed another former Tour winner, Greg LeMond, who wasn’t on the team, his lawyer Mark Handfelt said last week.
Armstrong has rejected Landis’s claims. His achievements in beating cancer and making a comeback at age 37 last year should be the focus of attention, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last week. Armstrong, now 38, placed third in 2009 and finished 23rd in this year’s race.
“It’s a life lesson,” Sarkozy told French television on the Col du Tourmalet mountain top after following the July 22 stage. “He’s a great champion.”
The French have warmed to Armstrong’s more laid-back attitude since he made his comeback last year after questioning his seven straight successes from 1999 to 2005, Yvon Sanquer, a Frenchman who manages the Astana team, said. Armstrong raced for Astana last year.
French newspaper L’Equipe, which five years ago ran the headline “The Armstrong Lie” when it reported that another examination of his urine samples from 1999 showed he doped, changed its tune last week. It went with “Hats Off to The Texan” after his final bid for a stage win fell just short.
Armstrong denied doping in 1999 and said the samples may have been tampered with.
“You have to see what he represents overall: It’s enormous, he’s a social phenomenon,” Sanquer said. “You have to respect the American justice system but it’s a little late.”
Armstrong told reporters before the July 14 Tour stage that he would cooperate with a “credible and fair” investigation. He hired Bryan Daly, a white-collar criminal defense attorney, to help him. Daly said he didn’t know what prosecutors are reviewing.
The New York Daily News reported last month, citing unidentified people, that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles is assisting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an investigation of Landis’s allegations. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment on the probe.
Armstrong shouldn’t get special treatment just because he overcame cancer, said Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former U.S. Postal team rider. Andreu told a tribunal in 2004 that she heard Armstrong tell a doctor at Indiana University Hospital when he was being treated for cancer that he used doping products including steroids and synthetic testosterone as a cyclist. Armstrong denied her claim.
Allegations Thrown Out
“I was telling the truth but it was completely ignored,” Andreu said by telephone. “Cancer inoculated him from any wrongdoing.”
After hearing several witnesses, the tribunal threw out that case without ruling on whether Armstrong doped or not. It was looking into a complaint by Dallas-based SCA Promotions about speculation that Armstrong had doped. SCA insured Armstrong’s employer Tailwind Sports against paying him $11.5 million in bonuses for his Tour wins between 2001 and 2004, SCA President Bob Hamman said.
“We’re certainly looking with interest from here” at the new investigation, Hamman said.
Armstrong gave Sarkozy a Trek Bicycle Corp. bike painted with the blue, white and red of the French flag in March. The French president said he prefers to focus on the Texan’s achievements above everything else.
“I admire the performance of the man,” Sarkozy said.