US Postal linked with 'blood drug'

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The Independent Online

The Paris drugs squad is investigating the alleged use of a new drug made from calves' blood by the team led by Lance Armstrong, the winner of the Tour de France for the last two years.

The Paris drugs squad is investigating the alleged use of a new drug made from calves' blood by the team led by Lance Armstrong, the winner of the Tour de France for the last two years.

The drug - Actovegin - is not illegal in France and not one of the substances banned by the International Cycling Union. According to some medical experts, it can provide the same kind of boost to oxygen levels in the blood - and therefore physical endurance - as the banned drug, EPO.

Armstrong, the Texan who recovered from testicular cancer to dominate the 1999 and 2000 Tours, has always denied taking illegal performance-boosting substances. Proof that he and his team-mates in the US Postal team had taken Actovegin would be embarrassing but would not constitute a breach of the rules of road-race cycling.

The investigative French newspaper, Le Canard Enchainé, reported yesterday that traces of the Norwegian-made drug were found in empty ampoules dumped by back-up members of the US Postal team after the Courchevel-Morzine mountain stage of this year's Tour on 18 July.

The activities of the team workers were filmed by a French television crew as part of an investigation of drugs in cycling which has not yet been screened. Materials dumped in a dustbin were recovered by the TV journalists.

An anonymous tip-off was sent last month to the chief public prosecutor in Paris, who ordered a preliminary inquiry. It remains unclear whether the investigation will lead to any legal action since Actovegin is neither an approved nor a banned drug in France.

The French press, which has often questioned Armstrong's superhuman performances in mountain stages of the Tour, adopted a "told-you-so" attitude yesterday.

The revelation of the investigation came at the end of the trial in Lille of the leading French cyclist, Richard Virenque, and 23 other people, following the discovery of EPO and other banned drugs in a van belonging to the Festina team just before the 1998 Tour. Verdicts and sentences have been postponed until 22 December.

During the two-week trial, a former trainer of the Festina team, Antoine Vayer, alleged that all successful road-race cyclists - and Armstrong in particular - were taking performance-boosting substances. Vayer said that Armstrong manifestly gathered strength on mountain stages of the Tour, which was "humanly andphysiologically impossible."

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