ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Tour de France winner Andy Schleck believes Lance Armstrong’s claim he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs after his comeback to cycling in 2009.
During a two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey, screened in the United States Thursday and Friday, Armstrong was impassioned when he insisted he didn’t dope during an unsuccessful comeback to cycling between 2009 and 2011.
Schleck and Alberto Contador beat Armstrong into third place in the 2009 Tour de France and Luxembourg’s Schleck says he is sure Armstrong was riding clean on that tour.
“He made his comeback and he was beaten in the first year by Alberto and me,” said Schleck, who is in Australia to ride the Tour Down Under, first event of the 2013 WorldTour.
“So, in my eyes, I was clean. I know I was always a clean rider and I keen on riding clean. So why should he be behind me?
“I believe in his comeback that he was clean.”
Armstrong launched his comeback to cycling at the 2009 Tour Down Under and rode the race twice more, in 2010 and 2011, before retiring for the second and final time.
Race director Mike Turtur, an Olympic cycling gold medalist and former member of cycling’s world body the UCI, said he could not say for sure that Armstrong was clean when he rode in Australia.
“I can’t say because I don’t know,” Turtur said. “I can’t answer a question that is based on speculation.
“It’s hard to answer that sort of question.”
The South Australia state government paid millions of dollars to Armstrong to compete in the Tour Down Under in 2009, 2010 and 2011, seeking to boost the race’s profile and encourage tourism.
The state is now seeking repayment of those appearance fees, joining a queue of former Armstrong sponsors and supporters who say they should be reimbursed after his admission he was a cheat.
The Tour Down Under, which starts Sunday with a criterium prologue and continues over six stages from Tuesday, is the first event of a new professional cycling season. Riders hope that after Armstrong’s admissions to Winfrey it may also mark a break with a tarnished history.
World road race champion Philippe Gilbert of Belgium said “we’re just looking to start the season and to finally speak about the sport.
“This is part of the story of cycling, of course, but this is the past and we just want to see something different now.”
Defending Tour Down Under champion Simon Gerrans of Australia began his professional career in 2005, the same year in which Armstrong last won the Tour de France and the year in which Armstrong says he last doped.
Gerrans said cycling now had a new generation of riders who competed clean.
“I’ve never been exposed to doping in any of the teams I’ve been involved with,” he said. “I’ve never doped.
“In saying that, the fight against doping is an ongoing battle. I don’t think the sport will ever be 100 percent clean.
“I don’t think any professional sport will be 100 percent clean because people cheat. That’s human nature.”
Schleck’s brother Frank is currently suspended pending the hearing of a doping charge stemming from last year’s Tour de France. Andy Schleck won the 2010 Tour de France after Alberto Contador’s disqualification for a positing drugs test. Contador continues to fight that charge.