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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Armstrong backed by US official
Lance Armstrong
A leading American cycling official has vehemently backed Lance Armstrong over claims in a French newspaper that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

L'Equipe claimed last week that Armstrong's blood tests from the 1999 Tour de France showed traces of EPO.

Armstrong denied the claims and USA Cycling's chief operating officer Steve Johnson was equally dismissive.

"This is an issue for the French - they seem very concerned about it. Frankly I don't care what they think," he said.

"I don't think Lance does either."

Armstrong has always denied taking performance-boosting drugs and has never failed a doping test.

The 33-year-old Texan, who overcame cancer before winning his first Tour de France in 1999, retired in July after his seventh victory.

"This isn't a 'doping positive'. This is just a publication in a French tabloid newspaper. That's our perspective," added Johnson.

There were no tests in 1999 to detect EPO, a drug that increases the level of red blood cells and, as a result, an athlete's endurance.

This whole thing isn't a big deal for Americans
US official Steve Johnson

However, samples from the 1999 Tour were kept and have been recently retested by an anti-doping laboratory in Chatenay-Malabry outside Paris.

Johnson said that because correct protocols were not followed, the results of the tests were irrelevant.

"Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the US Anti-Doping Agency, they've all defined a process for collecting samples, managing samples, testing the samples, identifying the people who are involved," said Johnson.

"They have certain rights in the process. None of that has been followed in this case."

Officials from cycling's ruling body (UCI), Wada, the French sports ministry and the Tour de France all agree normal anti-doping proceedings have not been followed.

Chatenay-Malabry laboratory officials said the tests were carried out for only scientific purposes and had no legal value because only one sample was tested.

"This whole thing isn't a big deal for Americans," said Johnson.

"What Lance has accomplished is so much bigger than just the Tour de France. That's only part of it."

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