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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lance Armstrong fears Tour crowd attack

America's seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong fears he may be attacked by spectators when he returns to the race in 2009.

The 37-year-old won every Tour title between 1999 and 2005 and is making a comeback three years after retiring.

But his achievements are still being questioned by those who claim he used performance enhancing drugs.

He told the Guardian: "There are some aggressive, angry emotions (in France). My safety could be in jeopardy."

Armstrong fears a repeat of what happened to Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx who was punched by a disgruntled French spectator during the 1975 Tour de France.

Many Frenchmen thought Merckx may beat home favourite Jacques Anquetil's record of five wins and while he was climbing the Puy-de-Dôme, one attacked him, arguably denying him a then record-breaking sixth Tour victory.

And Armstrong said: "Eddy would have won six Tours if he hadn't been punched.

"Cycling is a sport of the open road and spectators are lining that road. I try to believe that people, even if they don't like me, will let the race unfold.

"(But) there are directors of French teams that have encouraged people to take to the streets, elbow to elbow.

"It's very emotional and tense."

Armstrong also confronted the doping controversies that continue to blight his record.

"I understand people in France and in cycling might have that perception but the reality is that there's nothing there," he added.

"The level of scrutiny I've had throughout my career from the press and the anti-doping authorities is unmatched.

"I've got nothing to hide. I won seven Tours through hard work."

French paper L'Equipe reported in 2005 that a sample of Armstrong's urine from his first victory in 1999 had been retested and found to contain traces of EPO, but he was fully exonerated after an independent investigation.

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