Armstrong believes doping era over
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Lance Armstrong believes cycling is ready to emerge from the shadow of doping, even while it encircles some of baseball's biggest stars.
Armstrong spoke at the end of a lengthy news conference Thursday night to promote the Tour of California, his first event on his native soil since the seven-time Tour de France winner began his comeback.
Asked his opinion on the latest round of steroid revelations in baseball surrounding Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada, Armstrong professed hope that cycling's tougher regulation and his personal testing regimen have reduced fans' disbelief in the sport's top athletes.
"It seems like cycling is on its way out of that, that dark spot," Armstrong said. "And maybe baseball is entering, I don't know."
"It's tough to compare [baseball and cycling]," Armstrong added. "The level of testing is not anywhere near what you see in cycling. At the end of the night, we get to sleep well knowing we've been tested more than anyone else, and we're more vigilant than anyone else."
But Armstrong also defended his recent decision to scrap his self-imposed testing program with Don Catlin before it even began. When Armstrong announced his comeback five months ago, he said Catlin -- a prominent anti-drug scientist -- would supervise his personal, extra-stringent testing program.
Armstrong blamed exorbitant costs and scheduling problems for his split with Catlan, still praising the doctor as "one of the best there is."
"It was a difficult program to put together," Armstrong said. "It was complex. If you match his schedule with mine, with traveling all over the world, the testers literally would have been tripping over each other to get to the room. That's not to say we won't have the most comprehensive anti-doping program in the world."
Armstrong still plans to post online results of his personal drug tests, but said the previous plan would have required him to be tested every three days.
"I think everybody in doping agrees that's not really necessary," Armstrong said. "Sounds good, but not necessary when you're talking about the biological passport and other things. We'll certainly be able to prove that the performances that people see, whether they're slow or fast, will have to be believed."
After a 3½-year absence from the sport he dominated for most of the decade, Armstrong began his comeback last month at the Tour Down Under in Australia. He said he was pleased after finishing 29th, 49 seconds behind winner Allan Davis on aggregate time.
The 37-year-old Armstrong said his main goal in the Tour of California is to set the stage for another victory for Levi Leipheimer, his Astana teammate and the event's two-time defending champion.
Armstrong also is racing in California against George Hincapie, his close friend and eager assistant in each of Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories. Hincapie now races for Team Columbia-High Road.
Although he's beginning his comeback with mostly friendly fans in Australia and California, he knows the climate could change once he moves to Europe for the Giro D'Italia and the Tour de France, where he has a decidedly tumultuous relationship with the cycling public and press.
"I think there are pockets of detractors, but I think by and large the support reading is high," Armstrong said. "I'm not too worried about it. We'd all like to ride down the road and be loved by everybody, but that's just not the case."
Floyd Landis also plans to ride in the race despite crashing his bike during a training run Thursday.
The former Tour de France champion is headed into his first race back from a two-year doping ban. Landis' crash was announced by Tour of California officials moments before he was due to appear at a news conference promoting the race, which begins with a prologue Saturday in downtown Sacramento.
Landis, who won the inaugural Tour of California in 2006, won the Tour de France later that year, but was stripped of cycling's most prestigious title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone. He spent much of the past two years and personal savings attempting to clear his name in various courts.
He still contends the sport's testing system is flawed, but his ban expired Jan. 30, and the 33-year-old moved quickly to get back into competition.
Leipheimer, the only other person to win the race, didn't know about Landis' crash until hearing about it in a news conference.
"He's a tough guy," Leipheimer said. "It won't affect him."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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