Cycling: Riders, UCI hit back at Armstrong's claim that Tour can't be won without doping

PORTO VECCHIO (AFP) - Tour de France riders on Friday dismissed claims by shamed US cyclist Lance Armstrong that it was "impossible" to win the sport's most famous race without doping, saying his claims hit at their credibility.

Cadel Evans, who won the Tour in 2011, said he had shown it was possible to triumph without cheating, amid claims the focus was being shifted away from the start of this year's historic 100th edition of the race, which begins on Saturday.

"I think the opposite. I am proof that that is not true," the Australian BMC rider told a news conference in Porto Vecchio, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

Evans' team-mate, the Belgian Philippe Gilbert, blamed the media for seizing on the comments just as riders prepared for the race.

Armstrong was asked in an interview with French daily Le Monde published on Friday whether it was possible to win without taking performance-enhancing drugs when he was riding.

He responded: "That depends on the races that you wanted to win.

"The Tour de France? No. Impossible to win without doping because the Tour is an endurance event where oxygen is decisive."

The American, who won the Tour a record seven times between 1999 and 2005, later said his claims only applied to the period in which he dominated the sport.

"99-05. I was clear with Stephane Mandard (the sports editor of Le Monde) on this. Today? I have no idea. I'm hopeful it's possible," he wrote on his Twitter account @lancearmstrong.

The head of world cycling's governing body, Pat McQuaid, also disagreed with Armstrong.

"It might have been true in the past because there were undetectable substances such as EPO," the International Cycling Union (UCI) president told RTL radio.

"So everyone used EPO in cycling and other endurance sports too. But today the system is more strict and I'm convinced that you can win endurance sports by being clean and win the Tour de France by being clean."

McQuaid, who has faced calls to quit because of accusations of UCI complicity and cover-up in Armstrong's activities, denounced the American as an "opportunist".

"The Tour de France gets under way this weekend, so he's decided to attack the Tour de France at this precise moment and to attack the authorities," he added.

"Lance Armstrong is someone who only thinks about himself."