Armstrong Seeks 8th Tour De France Victory

Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong announces formally in New York Wednesday that he plans to come out of retirement and participate cycling's prestigious race one more time. While in the sport, Armstrong was dogged by rumors that he was doping. Armstrong wants to use his comeback, in part, to prove doubters wrong.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In New York today a former champion will announce how he plans to become a future one. Lance Armstrong, the only person ever to win the Tour de France bicycle race seven times, said earlier this month he would come out of retirement and return to the sport. But he didn't give many details. Of course, Lance Armstrong doesn't seem to do anything without controversy. This is no exception. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us. So Tom, tell us more about what is happening today.

TOM GOLDMAN: We're expecting Lance Armstrong to reveal the team he'll be racing for and his racing schedule. And according to The New York Times, Armstrong also will announce a partnership with longtime drug tester and anti-doping scientist Don Catlin. Now, Catlin reportedly is negotiating a deal to oversee a personal anti-doping program for Armstrong. Catlin is best-known perhaps for unraveling the secret of THG, the previously undetectable steroid at the heart of the BALCO doping scandal.

WERTHEIMER: So, what is the significance of these two getting together?

GOLDMAN: Well, it's startling to those who followed the doping wars over the years. I mean, you've got the world's foremost anti-doping detective and an elite athlete who's been followed by doping suspicions throughout his career. But Armstrong wants to use this comeback in part to prove doubters wrong. And joining forces with Catlin appears to be part of that effort.

WERTHEIMER: There's another controversy going on about Armstrong. It has to do with those past doping suspicions. A debate has emerged this month over a scientific study that was done in the '90s. What can you tell us about that?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, there was a paper published in The Journal of Applied Physiology three years ago. University of Texas researcher Ed Coyle studied Armstrong periodically from the early 1990s to 1999. That was the year Armstrong won the first of seven straight Tours de France. Now, Coyle found that Armstrong had a dramatic increase in his muscle efficiency. That means he generated more power through the pedals of his bike using the same amount of oxygen. Now, although Dr. Coyle says it wasn't his intent, the results were widely used to defend Armstrong against doping allegations as in, you know, see, he didn't cheat, he became so great because his muscle efficiency improved. But this month, Linda, a group of Australian researchers wrote in that same journal that Coyle made significant mistakes in his research, and the findings should be invalid because of that.

WERTHEIMER: What are we talking about? Mistakes in math?

GOLDMAN: Well, they say the problem's in how data was collected and interpreted. The wrong equation was used in calculating the results. Dr. Coyle admits the equation he referred to in his paper was not the one he actually used in the study. He admits that was a mistake. But he says it shouldn't invalidate the findings. So I went to other exercise physiologists to try to tip the debate in either direction. And as often happens in science, it's really hard to resolve. One prominent expert I talked to called Dr. Coyle's study junk. Another said Dr. Coyle carried out a very, very strong study.

WERTHEIMER: So, where does that leave us on how Lance Armstrong became the greatest bicycle champion in history?

GOLDMAN: Well, without a clear-cut answer, it seems. I mean, at one point the Australian researchers asked Ed Coyle for all his data so they could carry out the research themselves. Coyle said he gave them all that was available, but it was data from just one year. That was 1993. So, one person involved in the debate suggested maybe the way to answer this muscle efficiency question is for the Australians to test Armstrong now. After all, he's back in the game, and he says he's going to be transparent and open about everything.

WERTHEIMER: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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