US investigation into Tour de France doping claims

United States’ investigators interviewed French anti-doping officials at Interpol headquarters on Tuesday as part of a probe into allegations of drug use by cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, a French official said.

The investigation shifted its focus to France, with an American delegation seeking information from police officials and the national anti-doping agency (AFLD) that has stored some of Armstrong’s samples from the Tour de France. Armstrong won cycling’s storied race seven straight times, from 1999 to 2005.

Francoise Lasne, director of the AFLD lab, and testing director Jean-Pierre Verdy were heard as witnesses Tuesday at Interpol, an official with knowledge of the meeting told the Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the case.

Interpol, the international police agency, is acting an intermediary between the US and French officials.

Before the meeting, a French official said the AFLD would make its information available to the Americans.
The official also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to publicly discuss the meeting.

He said the agency would share “everything we know, everything we have, in the fridges, in the freezers, everything, everywhere” and is prepared to answer “everything that they ask”.

The US probe is being conducted by US Food and Drug Administration Agent Jeff Novitzky and others. Approached in the lobby of his hotel, Novitzky declined to comment. The French official said he believed the American delegation also included US federal prosecutor Doug Miller and US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart.

Miller had been booked at the same hotel as Novitzky, but canceled the reservation. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. His office voicemail said he would be out of the country from Monday to Thursday. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office, declined comment.

Reached by e-mail, Tygart declined comment. In a recorded phone message at USADA headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Tygart said he was out of the office on business.

Sports doping
French police officials whose job it is to investigate sports doping in France are also meeting later this week with the Americans, a senior police official said Tuesday. That official spoke on condition that he not be identified because he was not authorised to discuss the meeting publicly.

The meeting will also be in Lyon, the south-central city where Interpol is located, and was organised through the police agency, the official said. He said he expects the meeting would cover, among other subjects, disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis’ allegations that Armstrong and members of his former US Postal team systematically doped.

The police officials work for a French agency that, separately, has also been investigating syringes and transfusion equipment found in a trash container after the 2009 Tour de France that French officials say belonged to the Astana cycling team that included Armstrong and tour winner Alberto Contador.

The American, who retired in ‘05 before coming back for the ‘09 and ‘10 Tours, has repeatedly denied allegations he took performance-enhancing drugs.

The former head of the French agency, Pierre Bordry, previously promised to hand over Armstrong’s samples from the 1999 Tour de France to Novitzky if the agent makes an official request. Bordry announced his resignation this September after battling with French authorities over the budget for the doping agency.

“Nothing to be concerned about”
“The samples were clean when originally provided and tested. So we have nothing to be concerned about. Period,” Mark Fabiani, an attorney for Armstrong, said in a statement on Tuesday.

One of the French officials, meanwhile, said he does not know whether US investigators have formally requested the samples.

“They can’t just take them with them. There’s all the preparation that needs to be done before that happens,” he said.

The French sports daily L’Equipe reported in 2005 that Armstrong’s samples from 1999 contained traces of the banned performance-enhancer EPO after being retested in 2004.

An investigator mandated by cycling’s international governing body later cleared Armstrong.

US federal prosecutors have been looking at cheating in cycling for months, aided by Novitzky, who played a key role in the BALCO scandal that implicated athletes like Barry Bonds and Marion Jones and opened a window into the methods used to dope.

Armstrong became a more important figure in the probe this spring after Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for failing a doping test, dropped long-standing denials and acknowledged he used performance-enhancing drugs. In doing so, he accused Armstrong and others of systematic drug use.—Sapa-AP

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