Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong said yesterday that allegations in a forthcoming book that he used performance-enhancing drugs are "absolutely untrue," adding that he is filing suit in England and in France against those involved.
"I can absolutely confirm that we don't use doping products," said Armstrong, who is less than three weeks from pursuing his sixth straight Tour de France victory. "I personally am very frustrated. . . . The people that know cycling know that we're the most passionate, fanatical, crazy team out there when it comes to preparation and the right way. We spend more time on equipment and training and legal methods than anybody else."
Armstrong made his comments yesterday at a news conference at Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications Inc., where he and Discovery executives announced a three-year, multimillion dollar sponsorship deal that will begin in January. His current sponsorship deal with the U.S. Postal Service, believed to be worth about $10 million per year, expires at the end of the year.
His comments came in response to "L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong," scheduled to be released in Europe this week. Excerpts of the book were published in the French magazine L'Express last Sunday and include allegations that a former aide to the U.S. Postal Service applied makeup to conceal bruises and needle marks on his arms, according to published reports. According to the reports, the book also said that Armstrong asked the aide to dispose of used syringes and that he sent her from France to Spain to pick up "unspecified medication."
Armstrong, 32, a native of Texas who has survived testicular cancer, has been the subject of allegations of drug use for years. A two-year French judicial inquiry ended in 2002 without finding any evidence of wrongdoing. The cyclist said he has retained a London law firm that has begun proceedings to block publication of the book and to sue authors David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, the Sunday Times and L'Express for libel. Walsh is a columnist for the Sunday Times, and Ballester is a former staff writer for the French sports daily L'Equipe. Walsh has long been dubious about Armstrong's achievements.
"It's very unfortunate," said Armstrong. "It's simply a few journalists that have taken this on as a personal mission. Enough is enough."
Despite the years of allegations, Armstrong has maintained a reputation as a clean, honest athlete, which has helped him earn millions, including endorsement deals with Nike, Subaru and Coca-Cola. A Sports Illustrated survey published in May ranked his $16.5 million in endorsements fourth among active U.S. athletes, behind Tiger Woods ($70 million), LeBron James ($35 million) and Andre Agassi ($24.5 million).
The deal with Discovery, which operates in 160 countries and has a billion subscribers, could extend beyond Armstrong's cycling career and include other projects, Armstrong said yesterday. Discovery has 19 brands, including Animal Planet, Travel Channel, the Discovery Health Channel and the Science Channel as well as 120 Discovery Stores, offering numerous marketing opportunities.
"These are things that are right up our alley," Armstrong said.
The book's most sensational material is based on interviews with former U.S. Postal cycling team soigneur Emma O'Reilly. Soigneur -- literally translated, "one who takes care of" -- is a French term for staff members who give riders massages and do odd jobs.
Among O'Reilly's assertions in the book is that the team staff postdated a prescription for a cortisone cream to explain the presence of a banned substance in Armstrong's system during the 1999 Tour, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune story said O'Reilly also said Armstrong asked her to apply makeup to his arms to conceal bruising and needle marks and had her dispose of used syringes. O'Reilly said she did not know -- and never asked -- what drugs she was carrying when Armstrong allegedly sent her from France to Spain to pick up the "unspecified medication," according to the Tribune report.
"In fact, we actually had a very good working relationship," Armstrong said at yesterday's news conference, referring to O'Reilly. "I know that Emma left the team for other reasons. And even as evil as this thing has come out to be, it's not going to be my style to attack her. I know there were a lot of issues within the team, within the management, within the other riders that were inappropriate. She was let go. But to be quite honest, I always had a good relationship with her."