AFLD says Lance violated rules

Updated: April 9, 2009, 3:01 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PARIS -- France's anti-doping agency accused Lance Armstrong of violating its rules Thursday for not fully cooperating with a drug tester and says it could punish the seven-time Tour de France champion.

Armstrong has denied misbehaving during a test of his hair, urine and blood on March 17 and said no banned substances were found.

The agency, known as AFLD, said in a statement that the doctor leading the tests maintains Armstrong "did not respect the obligation to remain under the direct and permanent observation" of the tester.

At question is a 20-minute delay when Armstrong says the tester agreed to let him shower while the American rider's assistants checked the tester's credentials.

AFLD said cycling's governing body has given its permission to open disciplinary procedures against Armstrong, but did not say what the punishment could be.

[+] EnlargeLance Armstrong
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesFrance's anti-doping agency claimed that Lance Armstrong "did not respect the obligation to remain under the direct and permanent observation" of a drug tester.

AFLD president Pierre Bordry noted that the statement does not say that Armstrong is guilty of an infraction. AFLD is expected to make a decision on whether to proceed with sanctions after its nine-member ruling committee has considered the tester's report.

Philippe Maertens, the press liaison for Armstrong's Astana team, told ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford in an e-mail that the team will not respond formally to the AFLD release.

Armstrong's spokesman Mark Higgins said Thursday that the cyclist's camp was reviewing the most recent developments.

But Armstrong took a dig at French officials on his Twitter page. "Was winning the Tour seven times that offensive?!?" he said.

Bordry told ESPN.com he would make no comment beyond what was contained in the press release posted on the agency's Web site.

AFLD forwarded a report on Armstrong's conduct to the International Cycling Union (UCI), cycling's international governing body. UCI chief Pat McQuaid, according to the release, formally responded Wednesday to say it did not have jurisdiction over any potential discipline.

Armstrong, who has had tense relations with France's anti-doping authorities for years, is hoping to win an eighth Tour title in July after having retired in 2005.

Bordry said the agency has not yet decided whether to seek sanctions against Armstrong. Asked if the agency is launching disciplinary proceedings, he said: "Not yet. We'll see."

Armstrong recently gave his own version of events, saying he wasn't sure of the identity of the drug tester.

"I did not try to evade or delay the testing process that day," Armstrong said in a statement Tuesday.

Armstrong was training in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in southern France when the test was conducted. Armstrong said he had returned from a ride to find the tester at his house, identifying himself as a representative of a French lab.

In France, drug testers take an oath before a court to discharge their duties honestly before they are allowed to work.

The AFLD is empowered by French law to impose sanctions on athletes that have broken its rules and can do so separately from the athlete's own national anti-doping body. When Floyd Landis was first charged with a doping offense after winning the 2006 Tour de France, the AFLD initiated a separate hearing process, but eventually backed off after the cyclist's lawyers argued he could not fight legal actions on two continents at once.

Eventually, the AFLD announced that Landis would be suspended from racing in France for the same length of time (2½ years) he was suspended from all international competition. Landis unsuccessfully disputed his positive test for synthetic testosterone through two rounds of arbitration.

However, the AFLD's actions can sometimes have consequences beyond its borders.

The French agency had sole responsibility for conducting anti-doping tests at last year's Tour de France after a dispute with the UCI led to the race being formally removed from the UCI's calendar. The two sides have since resolved their differences and will cooperate in testing at this year's race.

In retroactive reanalysis of 2008 Tour blood samples done last fall, German cyclist Stefan Schumacher, who won two time trial stages and briefly held the overall lead in the race, tested positive for CERA, a new-generation blood booster that is a version of EPO.

In February, the AFLD suspended Schumacher from racing in France until January 2011. Earlier this month, the UCI announced that it would extend that ban worldwide. Schumacher is appealing that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the case may not be resolved for several months.

The rationale for the rule that testers must keep athletes in sight at all times is based on a long history of athletes coming up with novel methods to try to beat tests. Numerous sites on the Internet offer advice on methods, some of which are practiced by non-athletes who have to pass workplace drug tests.

Athletes have filled devices with diluted urine, swapped out another person's urine and even injected clean urine into their own bladders with syringes or catheters. In 2005, then-Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith was caught with vials of dried urine and a contraption called "The Original Whizzinator,'' which featured a prosthetic penis and fake bladder attached to a jockstrap. He was later suspended for a year for accumulated violations under the league's substance abuse policy and has not played in the NFL since.

Ordinary laundry soap can alter urine chemistry if an athlete introduces it into the urine stream by putting it on his hands. A witness in the doping arbitration case against American cyclist Kayle Leogrande last year alleged he did that. Based on that testimony and other evidence, Leogrande was suspended from competition for two years, even though he did not fail a doping test.

ESPN.com writer Bonnie D. Ford and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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