Armstrong Blasts Tour Director

Cyclist Lance Armstrong attends a game between the Texas Longhorns and the Texas Tech Red Raiders on October 22, 2005 at Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Lance Armstrong criticized the Tour de France director Friday as "someone who continues to ignore the truth" for suggesting that next year's race will be better off without the seven-time champion.

Director Jean-Marie LeBlanc questioned Armstrong's record as a drug-free rider a day earlier when Tour officials announced the setup for the 2006 race.

"Without doubt ... what we have learned has increased the lassitude toward him," Leblanc said from Paris. "He was not irreproachable in '99. EPO is a doping product. So this tempers and dilutes his performances and his credibility as a champion."

Armstrong has denied accusations by the French newspaper L'Equipe that he used the banned blood-booster EPO to help him win his first Tour title. Armstrong retired in July after winning his final Tour.

"Once again Jean-Marie LeBlanc has taken an unsolicited shot at me and continues to ignore the truth," Armstrong said in a statement. "And while he may want to erase the last seven years I have nothing but great memories of participating in the greatest sports event in the world. Jean-Marie claims the Tour deserves a better fate, I believe it deserves a better leader."

Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's team director on each of his seven wins, said the presentation of next year's race seemed to take a cheap shot at Armstrong.

"I felt targeted during the presentation," Bruyneel said. "They talk for 12 minutes about ethics rather than presenting the race itself. ... I'm conscious Lance won seven Tour de France titles and owes a lot to the race. But at the same time, the Tour de France became more important with an American who won seven Tours."

The Aug. 23 report by the French newspaper sparked a wave of sharp comments by Armstrong, the World Anti-Doping Agency, USA Cycling and the International Cycling Union and

The International Cycling Union has appointed a Dutch lawyer to conduct an independent investigation into allegations Armstrong tested positive for EPO during the 1999 Tour de France.

Armstrong vehemently denies any wrongdoing. Leblanc made similar comments in August, and Armstrong has said he is considering whether to sue L'Equipe, France's national anti-doping laboratory and the Tour director.

The 2006 Tour starts on July 1 in Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of eastern France, then passes through Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands, before winding counterclockwise through the Pyrenees and then the Alps and ending on Paris' famed Champs-Elysees on July 23, a distance of 2,256 miles. With five major mountain ascents and three uphill finishes, the route most likely will favor climbers.

In Armstrong's absence, the early favorites appear to be 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich of Germany, Ivan Basso of Italy, Alejandro Valverde of Spain and Floyd Landis of the United States.