PARIS -- When Lance Armstrong and France's anti-doping agency were at odds last spring over a surprise doping test, the seven-time Tour de France champion's return to the Tour appeared to fade.
Since then, tensions have eased. Armstrong is set for the start of the three-week race Saturday in Monaco, and Pierre Bordry, the president of anti-doping agency AFLD, says his drugs testers will treat Armstrong like any other rider.
"He is probably a great sportsman and from that point of view he is not a rider like any other," Bordry told The Associated Press in an interview at his office on Paris' Left Bank. "But he should be treated like the others when it comes to the fight against doping."
Just months ago, Armstrong and the agency were bickering.
In March, the AFLD said Armstrong did not fully cooperate with one of its testers who showed up at his home in France to collect blood, urine and hair samples. At issue was a 20-minute delay. Armstrong insisted the tester had agreed to let the rider shower while his assistants checked the visitor's credentials.
The agency said Armstrong was out of line, and warned it could prevent him from racing in the Tour.
Armstrong at first reacted angrily and predicted the dispute would continue to escalate, anticipating "more antics out of the AFLD." He didn't return to France to train or compete.
Armstrong had been planning to race in the Criterium International in France, but instead rode in the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon -- where he broke his collarbone in a crash that could have also derailed his Tour comeback hopes.
But in part because of a letter of good will that Armstrong sent to Bordry, the ill-feeling eased. The agency chief said he appreciated the letter, and took it into account in his decision to let Armstrong go unpunished.
Bordry insists there was no gentleman's agreement with Armstrong. He declined to reveal the contents of the letter, saying Armstrong had asked him to keep it confidential. Armstrong has since stopped his verbal assault against the agency.
Last year, the AFLD ran anti-doping controls alone because of a feud between Tour organizers ASO and the UCI. That dispute has also been resolved, and the UCI is back to oversee testing this year. Under a collaboration accord, the French anti-doping agency will be able to target riders and to ask the UCI to test them.
As part of its new "biological passport" program this year, the UCI is giving extra scrutiny to a group of 50 riders -- either pre-race favorites or cyclists with profiles that have raised suspicion. The UCI has refused to identify the riders.
After winning the last of his seven Tour de France's in 2005, the 37-year-old Armstrong railed the "cynics and the skeptics" who didn't believe his victories were doping-free. A month after his retirement, French sports daily L'Equipe reported that Armstrong's "B" samples from the 1999 Tour contained EPO -- a banned blood-boosting hormone. The newspaper is owned by race organizer ASO.
Armstrong insisted he was the victim of a "witch hunt," and a Dutch lawyer appointed by the UCI later cleared him.
"I have absolutely no reason to doubt what he says," said Bordry, who offered Armstrong a chance to retest the 1999 urine samples after the American announced his comeback last year. Armstrong rejected the offer.
"By offering to retest the samples, I wanted to help him. I wanted to give him the right to defend himself against a rumor," said Bordry.
"Authorities should have gone further then. Two options were available: if (Armstrong) had doped, he should have been sanctioned -- and it was not done. Otherwise, the lab should have been penalized for conducting a bad test," he said.