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Armstrong Hopes for Clean Tour (Associated Press)... victory, which marked a comeback from advanced testicular cancer....... than a 40 percent chance of survival, he underwent brain surgery and chemotherapy and had a testicle removed....- Jul 05 7:26 PM ET


Posted on: 07/05/2001

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Thursday July 5 7:24 PM ET "Armstrong Hopes for Clean Tour"

Armstrong Hopes for Clean Tour

By MICHAEL McDONOUGH, Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) - Lance Armstrong knows this year's Tour de France will be tough. He just hopes it will be clean, too.

On Saturday, the 30-year-old Texan launches his bid for a third consecutive title in the world's toughest cycling race at a time when doping has once again cast a shadow over the sport.

"We hope for a clean sport, we hope for a clean race," Armstrong said. "We don't want another episode like the Giro."

The Tour de France starts just over a month since the Giro d'Italia was subjected to a police raid of team hotels. More than 60 riders were reportedly placed under investigation as a result of the late-night blitz.

Now the spotlight is on the Tour de France, whose image is still recovering from the 1998 edition when teams were kicked out after admitting to widespread drug use.

Despite efforts by Tour organizers to rid the sport of drugs, Armstrong wasn't ruling out the possibility of a fresh doping scandal.

"I can't be the guy to sit up here and tell you that it's going be absolutely clean," said Armstrong, who rides for the U.S. Postal Service. "I can tell you that in our organization, we have standards that we set."

The Societe du Tour de France, which runs the event, will test more riders this year and will use a newly validated urine test capable of detecting the performance-enhancer EPO. The 189 riders taking part in the Tour underwent blood and urine tests Thursday in Dunkirk, in northern France, where the three-week race begins.

"All of the measures are in place," Armstrong said. "Is somebody going to take the risk? Maybe. Are they stupid if they do that? Yes!"

Armstrong heads into the Tour as the new No. 1 rider in the world, a ranking he obtained with last week's victory in the Tour of Switzerland.

His performance in the Swiss Alps, including an uphill time-trial ending in Crans Montana, provided further evidence that Armstrong is the clear favorite to win this year's 20-stage Tour de France.

But he says he's not convinced.

"I disagree that I'm the overwhelming favorite," Armstrong said. "I think there are a lot of guys that are just as strong as me."

Armstrong is aiming to become only the second American - after Greg LeMond - to win the Tour three times, and the first to do it three years in a row.

The Texan stunned the world with his first Tour victory, which marked a comeback from advanced testicular cancer. Given less than a 40 percent chance of survival, he underwent brain surgery and chemotherapy and had a testicle removed.

Doubters who believed his 1999 win was a mere fluke were silenced when he won the event again the following year.

Now Armstrong is more than ever the man to beat, and 2000 runner-up Jan Ullrich is the first to admit it.

"I assume he will be even better this year than last year," said Ullrich, the 1997 champion who won Olympic gold in Sydney. However, the German rider finished 52nd in the Giro and has a history of weight and fitness problems.

"Jan Ullrich is a fantastic rider," Armstrong said. "He's strong, he's talented. I think he's in shape. He's a favorite."

The Team Telekom cyclist is confident of his chances in what he sees as probably his last opportunity to win the Tour.

"I've noticed that my form is at the point where I'm ready to go," Ullrich said. "If it doesn't work out this time, then it probably won't ever."

Lesser known riders who have a chance of pulling an upset include Spaniard Joseba Beloki, who placed third last year, and France's Christophe Moreau. Italian Francesco Casagrande is also described by Armstrong as a "favorite."

Whoever wins will have to get the better of more than 2,100 miles of French and Belgian countryside, including seven mountain stages reaching to 6,100 feet. Five stages, including one individual time-trial, feature uphill finishes. The grueling event ends July 29 with the traditional ride down the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

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