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Reporter denies Lance's allegations

7/17/2004

FIGEAC, France -- Lance Armstrong's day was far from over
when he stepped off his bike after finishing ninth in Thursday's
stage of the Tour de France.

Once again, Armstrong found himself fending off the suspicions
that have dogged him since he won the first of his five straight
championships after coming back from cancer.

Armstrong said a French TV station tried to get into his hotel
room in hopes of finding evidence of doping, and three-time Tour
winner Greg LeMond voiced doubts that his fellow American is clean.

"They show up and they ask sporting questions to our face, but
as soon as they leave they're digging in the rooms and looking for
dirt," Armstrong said. "If you left a B vitamin sitting there,
that would get on TV and that would be a scandal. That's what we
have to live with every day."

The 32-year-old Texan said he was concerned the reporter from TV
station France 3 might have tried to plant banned substances to
frame him. Within his team, there are fears that some in France do
not want an American to win a record six Tours.

Armstrong said the television crew tried to persuade hotel staff
to let them into his room after he left to go race.

He said the reporter who visited his hotel "has been following
us for months and it's scandalous."

"The scary thing is, if they don't find anything and get
frustrated after a couple of months ... well, who's to say they
won't put something there and say, 'Look what we've found,' " Armstrong said. "They see the sport as a target, an easy target."

The France 3 reporter, Hugues Huet, said he went to the hotel to
do interviews about Armstrong's teammates and that he chatted to
the hotel manager for a few minutes. But he denied he sought access
to the champion's room.

"It's completely ridiculous," Huet told The Associated Press.
"We do have ethics and we don't do just anything. ... If I played
around by searching his room like that, I would be breaking the
limits."

The 11th stage, won by Frenchman David Moncoutie, did not change
the overall time gap between Armstrong and his main rival, German
Jan Ullrich, still 55 seconds behind.

Saving themselves for the arduous and likely decisive climbs in
the Pyrenees, which start Friday, and the Alps, they did not react
when Moncoutie and two other riders surged ahead.

The stage win was Moncoutie's first in five Tours and the third
by a French rider this year.

"To win a Tour stage is fabulous," said Moncoutie, who comes
from the rural region crossed Thursday. "It was one of my
dreams."

A herd of six cows trotting along the 102-mile trek from
Saint-Flour to Figeac momentarily held up the pack. After a first
week of cold and rain, a blazing sun baked riders.

"We're tired and really cooked," Armstrong said.

He finished in a group that included Ullrich, Iban Mayo, Tyler
Hamilton and Ivan Basso, 5 minutes and 58 seconds behind
Moncoutie's mark of 3 hours, 54 minutes and 58 seconds.

French champion Thomas Voeckler, also in that group, retained
the overall lead, still 9 minutes and 35 seconds ahead of
sixth-placed Armstrong. But the 25-year-old French rider is
expected to lose the lead to top riders in the mountains.

Armstrong has been cheered by French fans waving the American
flag. But others bristle at the prospect of a Texan overtaking the
four other five-time champions, who include Frenchmen Jacques
Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.

One roadside cardboard sign Thursday read, "Lance Go Home."

Within his team, aides are concerned that fans or reporters
might try to derail his Tour -- even recalling the stabbing of
American tennis star Monica Seles. Armstrong travels with
bodyguards during the three-week race.

"Nothing against the French but in France they're after us and
they're after the sport of cycling," Armstrong said. "It's not
just the Ministry of Sport, it's the media."

Armstrong has often had testy relations with some sections of
the French press. He has also raised cycling fans' hackles by
focusing on winning the Tour, while neglecting lesser races. Some
also feel that he has not always respected Tour traditions.

Armstrong himself acknowledges he was sometimes brash in his
early days but says he's become a Tour fan.

Allegations of doping have also clouded his image. Armstrong
says he has never taken banned drugs to enhance his performance.

In an interview published Thursday by Le Monde, a respected
French daily that previously leveled claims of drug use by
Armstrong, LeMond voiced doubts about his fellow American.

"Lance is ready to do anything to keep his secret," LeMond
told the paper. "I don't know how he can continue to convince
everybody of his innocence."

Armstrong shrugged off the suspicions.

"Greg LeMond was my idol as I grew up in cycling because he was
a great champion and did amazing things on the bike," he said in a
statement. "Many of his performances were so incredible especially
his remarkable return to form and win at the '89 Tour. I'm
disappointed and dismayed that for the past four years Greg has
continued to question my performances and my character."