By JIM LITKE
The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 13, 2006; 1:07 AM
-- Lance Armstrong bristled Tuesday at a report that two former teammates admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, calling it "a hatchet job ... to link me to doping through somebody else's admission."
Frankie Andreu and another former Armstrong teammate who requested anonymity because he still works in cycling told The New York Times they used the endurance-booster EPO to prepare for the 1999 Tour de France, when Armstrong won the first of his seven titles.
Neither rider has ever tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and both said they never saw Armstrong take any banned substances.
"I think it's a pretty nasty attempt by The New York Times to link me to doping through somebody else's admission. You have to read way down in the article until Frankie says, 'I never saw Lance do anything.'
"To me, this is a story about Frankie Andreu," Armstrong said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Los Angeles. "The fact he took drugs has nothing to do with me."
The Times first reported the story on its Web site Monday night. Armstrong could not be reached for comment by the Times because he was attending a meeting of the Presidents Cancer Panel in Minneapolis.
"We feel the story is completely fair. It says in the eighth paragraph his teammates never saw him take drugs, and in next paragraph, that he always denied using performance-enhancing drugs," Times sports editor Tom Jolly said.
"They are two of his former teammates. Obviously, he was the star of that team and that's their claim to fame. The story never accuses him of using drugs."
Andreu admitted taking EPO for only a few races and said he came forward now because he's worried doping is having a negative effect on the sport.
"There are two levels of guys," he told the paper. "You got the guys that cheat and guys that are just trying to survive."
Armstrong has devoted considerable time and money fighting doping allegations in the past, both during interviews and with lawsuits. He said any implication that he used performance-enhancers was "ludicrous."
"I can't prove a negative. All I can say is what I said a million times: I was tested at races, in my house, in hotel rooms, airports _ you name it. I had a lot of pressure on me," he said. "My performances never did anything but get better and stronger amid all the pressure and the improved testing."
This summer's Tour de France winner, Floyd Landis, also tested positive for elevated testosterone and synthetic testosterone after one of the race stages and is appealing the decision to strip his title. Landis was also Armstrong's teammate for two tours; he has denied using performance-enhancing drugs.
The Times report was based on interviews and court documents from a contract dispute between Armstrong and SCA Promotions. The Dallas-based company tried to withhold a $5 million bonus owed Armstrong for winning a record sixth straight Tour de France, citing allegations of cheating in the book "L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong." He responded with a lawsuit.
After three weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses, including Andreu, his wife, Betsy, and Steve Swartz, another former Armstrong teammate, Armstrong walked away with the bonus, plus $2.5 million in interest and lawyers costs.
"Three arbitrators listened to everything they said and decided none of them were credible," Armstrong said. "Andreu, his wife and Swartz all had their day, and at the end, the arbitrators gave us 50 percent more than the original bonus.
"That was a 'W,'" Armstrong said, meaning a win. "It's been that way time after time. I can't remember if it's 6-0 or 10-0, but we're unbeaten. You don't win those cases if you're that dirty."
Armstrong also acknowledged that his continuing high profile and the string of allegations that have extended into his retirement made him the "800-pound gorilla" for every doping story involving cycling.
"Well," he replied, "the 800-pound gorilla has stood up to every test, every investigation, every interrogation, everything _ and never lost."
Pat McQuaid, president of cycling's governing body, UCI, said he didn't understand Andreu's objectives in revealing he used EPO.
"If Andreu wishes to say that, that's up to him to say that," McQuaid said during a telephone interview. "I don't know what he's trying to achieve because he cannot achieve anything by saying this."
McQuaid said neither admission should cast doubt on Armstrong's record or his 1999 Tour victory.
"To take dope is an individual decision by an individual rider," McQuaid said.
Associated Press writer Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva contributed to this report.