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Armstrong: Comeback Won't Make Whispers Go Away

Lance Armstrong doesn't expect the relentless doping allegations or his sour relationship with the French to improve just because he's making a cycling comeback.

But the seven-time Tour de France champion isn't overly concerned, even as the same doping questions that have dogged his career re-emerge after his decision to return to cycling.

"I've listened to the whispers for more than a decade. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that. It doesn't cause me to lose sleep, it doesn't cause me to get distracted and, most importantly so far, it hasn't caused any negative effects to the things I love most," Armstrong said Thursday from Astana's preseason training camp.

Armstrong will race for Astana next season as part of a global drive to raise awareness in the fight against cancer. But it's the fight to keep his name from being associated with drugs that continues to follow him, especially from so many French critics.

French anti-doping authorities challenged Armstrong to agree to retest his 1999 urine samples to see whether a French newspaper was right when it reported they contained a banned substance. L'Equipe said in 2005 it had found the blood-boosting hormone EPO in the frozen sample.

But it's a closed case to Armstrong, who won't agree to the test with no A-sample to compare it with.

On top of the normal testing he has had to endure, Armstrong has subjected himself to an independent program from Don Catlin — America's top anti-doping expert — to help ease doubters.

"There's been those questions in the past and, presuming I'm able to ride fast again, they're not questions I want to sit around and continue to answer," Armstrong said of the testing regime he expects to be subjected to before his first race at Australia's Tour Down Under in January.

"There's always a skeptic. I've heard every conspiracy theory known to man, so it just felt like a logical thing to check it."

Cycling has made more headlines over doping scandals than anything else in previous years, but Armstrong says that just shows the International Cycling Union's drive to expel cheats was working.

"Cycling has continued to be proactive. These are things that are admirable but the sport doesn't always necessarily get credit for it," he said. "It's not a cycling problem, it's a sports problem. It gets beat up for it because it keeps catching guys."

Armstrong has already been subjected to eight doping tests, with the latest coming Wednesday from the Kazakh team's preseason training camp on the Spanish island off the coast of Africa.

"I've maintained that I've never doped in my life," Armstrong said. "There's not anything else I can do, except for repeating this and repeating this, and I'm sure I'll have to repeat it all year."

Armstrong expects his harshest critics to continue to come from France and its media, although he has backtracked on comments made last week that he feared for his safety at the 2009 Tour.

"It's not a place that I avoid, it's not a place that I dislike," Armstrong said. "I like it there, hopefully we can get a mutual understanding."

The 37-year-old is the first cyclist to win cycling's premier race seven straight times.

"I don't want to call it a problem because I don't view it as a problem. I see it as a relationship (with the French). Sometimes it's a good one and sometimes it's not so good," he said.

However, Armstrong remains puzzled by the mixed reception, especially after spending the week before Astana's camp in Nice. There, a restaurant gave him a standing ovation and a push to win an eighth Tour title next July.

"In my mind, I say what the hell is the problem here?" Armstrong said. "I don't know if it's a regional thing ... France isn't full of haters. The most prudent thing to do is just to relax when it comes to that relationship. We're going to be back, we're going to race, we're going to be on their roads.

"If you want to come out and yell things, that's fine. But just don't block the roads."


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