Armstrong fires back after Tour organizer says he has embarrassed race

PARIS -- Lance Armstrong says the Tour de France organizer's new president is being pretentious by claiming that the seven-time champion has "embarrassed" cycling's premier race.

Jean-Etienne Amaury told French sports newspaper L'Equipe on Saturday, "We can't say that he has not embarrassed the Tour de France, as he has had a quite a complicated history with it."

The comment astounded Armstrong.

"I've stated clearly, my main objective in 2009 is to bring about global awareness of a disease that kills eight million people annually worldwide. Nobody ever said that I need the Tour de France in order to try and achieve this," he said in a statement.

"It comes down to an issue of distraction -- while I love the event and France's people, I cannot accept this sort of grandstanding which distracts from the Livestrong message that is urgently needed, and being sought out, in many other places around the world."

The 32-year-old Amaury became president of the Amaury Sport Organization this week, replacing Patrice Clerc, who was known for his hard line against doping. Some observers interpreted the change as a sign that the ASO intended to soften its position.

Amaury, however, insisted the fight against doping remains a top priority.

"The Tour de France's position has always been very strict and that will not change in the years to come," he said. "[ASO] is quite conscious of the fact that doping undermines cycling's credibility."

Asked whether a comeback by the 37-year-old Armstrong, who retired in 2005 after winning his seventh consecutive title, would throw suspicion on the race, Amaury said that "today's tools in the fight against doping are different."

Armstrong added in Saturday's statement: "Also, according to
industry standards, the TV ratings, worldwide media impressions,
spectators along the route, and global sponsorships were at an
all time high. Where's the embarrassment in that?"

L'Equipe, owned by ASO's parent company EPA (Editions Philippe Amaury), claimed three years ago that samples of
Armstrong's urine from 1999 showed traces of the banned
blood-boosting substance erythropoietin (EPO).

However, Armstrong never tested positive and was cleared by
a Dutch investigator appointed by the International Cycling
Union (UCI).

At that time, World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Dick
Pound said Armstrong's clearance was "strange".

Armstrong announced last month he was coming out of retirement.

"The last time I checked I won the tour seven straight years and was never once found to be guilty of doping despite seven years of intense scrutiny," Armstrong said. "Not to mention that my team of 25 riders over those seven years was also never found to be positive. We won clean and fair.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.