Cycling: Armstrong rides into doping row

The French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) has reported that seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong may have failed to collaborate fully during an anti-doping inspection. The incident occurred when the Texan was asked for hair, urine and blood samples during an out-of-race test on 17 March near his European base Beaulieu-sur-Mer in southern France.

The American had been on a training ride and returned to find himself subject to what is his 24th out-of-competition test since he announced his return to cycling last autumn. "I returned home ... to find a man chasing me as I rode up to the house," Armstrong (below) said in a statement earlier this week.

According to the AFLD, Armstrong failed to remain under direct observation before the tests. This could be considered a possible violation of the rules. The American has firmly denied any wrongdoing, although he had said that he took a shower while the official's credentials were being confirmed.

"We told the tester we wanted to check with the UCI to confirm who he was and to make sure he wasn't just some French guy with a backpack and some equipment to take my blood and urine," Armstrong's statement added. "I was unaware that in France the government tests athletes and takes the position it can test any athlete residing in or visiting France. Johan [Bruyneel, Armstrong's team manager] stayed with him and in his presence called the [cycling's top governing body] UCI to find out what was going on."

"We asked if it was OK for me to run inside and shower while they made their calls and the tester said that was fine. I did not try to evade or delay the testing process."

The AFLD's chief Pierre Bordry played down the incident yesterday and even refused to say whether Armstrong might face an inquiry. "Not yet," he told AP, "we'll see."

The incident marks yet another chapter in Armstrong's tense relationship with France's anti- doping authorities, which stretch back to when he won his first Tour in 1999.

Armstrong's statement described the incident as "another example of the improper behaviour by the French laboratory and the French anti-doping organisations. I am sorry that they are disappointed that all the tests were negative."

He was also unhappy about the effect of the testing on his haircut, saying later that it had been "butchered".

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