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Worldcrunch

L'EQUIPE, LE MONDE (France)

PARIS - As the cycling world gets ready for the 2012 Tour de France, the man who dominated the competition for years is once again accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs, and risks losing all of his record seven titles.

Lance Armstrong has confirmed that he is under investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). As an immediate result of the inquiry, organizers of the Ironman triathlon in Nice confirmed on Thursday that the legendary Tour de France champion will be banned from the race. "The rules governing the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) state that no athletes under investigation can participate in the event," a spokesperson was quoted as saying by Le Monde. The athlete turned to the swimming/cycling/running sport following his retirement from cycling.

Armstrong, whose career has been dogged by still unproven allegations of doping, was quick to react to the fresh accusations. In a statement on his website, he attacked the agency's "malice, its methods, its star-chamber practices." The athlete, who won the Tour de France back to back from 1999 to 2005, wrote: "I have never doped and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one." A direct jab at former teammates Floyd Landis or Tyler Hamilton who accused him of doping.

Doping allegations have repeatedly targeted Armstrong since his first Tour victory. These allegations often came from the French media, triggering a very tense relationship between Armstrong and the French public. The website of French sports daily L'Equipe was inundated with comments, mostly critical of the American cyclist.

But most recently it was a US Federal government inquiry headed by the Food and Drug Agency that targeted him. Though it was abandoned in February, the USADA chose to go ahead with its own investigation. "These are the very same charges and the same witnesses that the Justice Department chose not to pursue after a two-year investigation. These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity," the athlete wrote.

As a result of the USADA inquiry, the 40-year-old is suspended from all competitions. If convicted, he could face a lifetime ban from cycling and be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

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