LONDON (AFP) — Lance Armstrong has revealed that he fears being attacked by spectators when he makes his return to the Tour de France next year.
The American, a seven-times winner of the Tour, believes he could be targeted by French fans angry that doping allegations surrounding him have helped to destroy the credibility and the magic of cycling's most famous race.
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Armstrong said: "I don't want to enter an unsafe situation but you see this stuff coming out of France.
"There are some aggressive, angry emotions. If you believe what you read my personal safety could be in jeopardy. Cycling is a sport of the open road and spectators are lining that road. I try to believe that people, even if they don't like me, will let the race unfold."
Asked if that meant he feared an attack on next year's tour, Armstrong responded: "Yeah. There are directors of French teams that have encouraged people to take to the streets ... elbow to elbow. It's very emotional and tense."
Armstrong won seven Tour titles between 1999 and 2005 but that extraordinary achievement by a survivor of testicular cancer has been tainted by unsubstantiated claims that it was done with the help of performance enhancing drugs.
French sports daily L'Equipe reported in 2005 that six samples of Armstrong's urine from the 1999 tour had revealed traces of the blood-boosting drug EPO following retrospective testing.
An investigation ordered by the International Cycling Union (UCI) subsequently concluded that the testing of the samples in question had not been conducted correctly and that the results could not be regarded as reliable evidence.
Armstrong reiterated to the Guardian that he had declined an offer from France's anti-doping agency to have the samples formally re-tested as an act of good faith because he could not be sure they had not been contaminated.
The American, now 37, went on to insist that insist that all seven of his titles were the result of hard work rather than doping.
"I understand people in France and in cycling might have that perception but the reality is that there's nothing there," Armstrong said.
"The level of scrutiny I've had throughout my career from the press and the anti-doping authorities is unmatched. I'm not afraid of anything. I've got nothing to hide."
Armstrong also claimed to be fitter now, at the age of 37, than he was in the early stages of the build-up to any of his successful tours.
"And mentally there is no comparison," he added. "I'm far stronger and more motivated. The motivation of 2008 feels like the motivation of 1999. I was back from cancer then. I had the motivation of vengeance because nobody wanted me or believed in me."
Despite that bullish assessment, Armstrong also admits to having "anxiety and insecurity about being 37."
"Let's not forget I'm the oldest tour winner in modern cycling history and that was four years ago. But that nervousness makes me work even harder. We're doing a training camp in December in Tenerife and another in California with big climbs. Normally I wouldn't smell a mountain until February so I'm starting early."
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