L’Equipe claimed that Armstrong, and other riders, tested positive for EPO from samples frozen in 1999.
The article – "Armstrong’s lies" – started an avalanche of press coverage around the world.
Many media commentators in the US have seen the ‘Armstrong affair’ as a France vs USA battle, especially as the other riders implicated were not named by L’Equipe. On the BikeBiz.com bulletin board one wag wrote that the French are "not happy because Lance did them in front of their own birds."
Armstrong also believes there’s a nationalist agenda at play: "French cycling is in one of its biggest lulls ever. I think it’s been 20 or 25 years since they won the Tour de France," he said last night.
He was scathing of the "witch-hunt" against him. "The thing stinks," he said. Armstrong told King and Costas that L’Equipe’s article was "slimy journalism."
Cyclingnews.com has an excellent comment piece on why the L’Equipe article could be suspect: "Only identifying the American fuels suspicion that it is a Euro-chauvinistic witch-hunt."
The piece concludes that the powers-that-be – UCI and WADA, World Anti-Doping Agency – must "prevent unsubstantiated information on doping from being revealed without the appropriate proof."
And it’s the flouting of accepted anti-doping protocols that has angered Armstrong.
On Larry King Live he said:
"The testing lab seriously violated two WADA protocols…Protocol wasn’t followed and there is no back-up sample to confirm what they say is a positive test.
"Do you think I am going to trust some guy in a French lab to open my samples and say they are positive and announce that to the world and not give me the chance to defend myself? That’s ludicrous. There’s no way you can do that.
"No protocol was followed. And then you get a phone call from a newspaper that says we found you to be positive six times for EPO. Well, since when did newspapers start governing sports? When does a newspaper decide they’re going to govern and sanction athletes? That’s not the way it works.
"Who opened the samples? What protocol was followed? Nothing. It was all thrown out the door. We cannot build a system of faith and trust in an anti-doping fight if we don’t have faith in it. There’s no way. If I’m an athlete, if I’m active today, which I’m not, thank goodness, I don’t trust that system."
"Somebody violated all the rules of drug testing here. There’s no way that I could be suspended or stripped. You have to have a confirmation sample, and we don’t have that. And that’s…you know, I wish we did. I really wish we did.
"This is not the first time somebody has come along and said ‘he’s doped’, ‘he rode too fast’, ‘his story’s too miraculous’. This has been going on for seven years and I suspect it will continue."
EPO was part of Armstrong’s chemotherapy treatment during his battle with testicular cancer, but "the last time I used it was late 1996," said Armstrong on last night’s interview.
Why does the ‘Armstrong affair’ stink? According to the seven times Tour de France winner it comes down to trust and strict following of doping protocols.
He said there were seventeen "B" urine samples left from his 1999 drug tests. EPO takes a few weeks to disappear from the body, so if one sample was positive, all seventeen should have been. He asked, why only six?
There is no way to determine now how the frozen urine samples were handled prior to testing, or who had access to them. During the Tour de France, the entire anti-dopage controlling regime is closely monitored.
There is also disagreement in the scientific community over whether frozen urine samples remain stable enough to test for EPO many years down the line.
‘B’ samples are meant for experimentation, not revelations. When a lab experiments on the only remaining urine sample, approval is needed from the cyclist, and the results are supposed to remain anonymous "for ever," according to WADA protocols. Armstrong said neither of these protocols were followed.
So much for the science, what about the motivation?
Armstrong was passionate on his reasons for being averse to performancee-enhancing drugs: "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."
On Friday, Armstrong received backing Friday from US cycling’s governing body. Gerard Bisceglia, chief executive officer of USA Cycling said:
"Preposterous is a strong word, but it is warranted in this case. Lance Armstrong is one of the most tested athletes in the history of sport and he has come up clean every single time. This kind of years-ago testing of a single sample with new technology is completely without credibility."
"What’s worse is that Lance cannot defend himself because there is no mechanism for final resolution."