France 'protected' Armstrong from a 2005 police anti-doping raid
Lawyer says police abandoned a doping raid on the American star's hotel at the 2005 Tour because his team were warned about it
Lance Armstrong, branded a drug cheat and banned from cycling by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada), narrowly escaped a police raid on his hotel during the 2005 Tour de France because he was being "protected in France", a French lawyer has said.
The US icon has been stripped by Usada of his seven Tour de France titles after he gave up the right to fight serious doping claims by the agency at an independent hearing.
A day after a report in Le Monde newspaper claimed Armstrong had been forewarned of doping controls - theoretically allowing the American to circumvent potential positive tests - French lawyer Thibault de Montbrial said evidence suggested he had also benefited from top level protection in France.
According to De Montbrial, a hotel at which Armstrong and his team were staying during the race's second rest day in Pau in 2005 was about to be raided by police, who were looking for evidence of elaborate doping substances and methods.
However, the operation was aborted at the last minute.
De Montbrial, a lawyer involved in investigating the fallout from the Festina affair that saw the 1998 Tour de France descend into farce, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper: "I know that during the Tour de France in 2005, on the second rest day at Pau, Armstrong's team came within an inch of having their hotel searched.
"A French investigation detail came from Paris to carry out a raid. But I have it on good authority that around five in the afternoon, when they were in front of the hotel, the investigators were told to abort. The scheduled operation was called off at the last minute.
"I do not know who gave the order ... But I do know the investigators were furious at having to turn on their heels. The evidence [suggests] Armstrong was indeed protected in France."
On Saturday, Michel Rieu, the scientific adviser to France's national anti-doping agency, AFLD, said Armstrong was "warned before all doping controls".
"The inspectors had a lot of trouble carrying out random checks. Armstrong was always tipped off in advance, so he still had 20 minutes to cover his tracks," Rieu said.
"He could thin his blood or replace his urine. He used the EPO [erythropoietin] only in small quantities, so it was no longer there to detect. We were powerless against this."
Armstrong, who finished second in the Power of Four mountain bike race in Colorado on Saturday, insisted afterwards that "I'm more at ease now than I've been in 10 years".
He said his cancer foundation, Livestrong, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the disease, would remain "unaffected by all the noise out there".
Donations to his foundation on Friday were up more than 20 times their daily average, Livestrong staff said.
"Nobody needs to cry for me," he said. "I'm going to be great. I have five great kids and a wonderful lady in my life."
Agence France-Presse, Reuters