PARIS (AP) — The French rider hounded by Lance Armstrong at the 1999 Tour de France for speaking out against doping thinks the disgraced cyclist's confession to taking banned drugs is scarcely credible because lying came so easily to him.
After refuting allegations of drug cheating ever since he won his first Tour in '99, Armstrong admitted Thursday to using the blood-booster EPO, testosterone, and to having blood doped during his seven straight Tour wins from 1999-2005. He has since been stripped of all those titles and banned from competing for life following a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a serial drug cheat.
Christophe Bassons was encouraged by Armstrong to quit cycling on the '99 Tour and frozen out by the rest of the peloton — including his own teammates — for his outspoken stance against drug cheats. He said he feels that Armstrong's doping admission on the Oprah Winfrey show was calculated.
"He stayed the way I thought he would: cold, hard. He didn't let any sentiment show, even when he spoke of regrets. Well, that's Lance Armstrong," Bassons told The Associated Press by telephone Friday. "There's a always a portion of lies in what he says, in my opinion. He's not totally honest even in his so-called confession. I think he admits some of it to avoid saying the rest."
Bassons, who retired from cycling in 2001 when he was 27 due to the pressure he was under for speaking out against doping, let out a sharp laugh when asked if he believed Armstrong's assertion that he did not use performance enhancers on his comeback Tours in 2009 and 2010.
"No, honestly I don't believe that," Bassons said. "It's a good thing that he admitted taking EPO, testosterone and transfusions, but the rest I have trouble believing."
During the '99 Tour, when he rode for the Francaise des Jeux team, Bassons wrote a newspaper column where he spoke out against doping.
It was the year after the Festina doping scandal — when the discovery of a carload of drugs led to evidence of widespread doping on the Festina team— had rocked cycling and Bassons' comments were clearly not welcome.
"It makes me smile a bit now, that what I said (then) is the truth," Bassons said. "No one on the peloton was talking to me anymore on this Tour de France, even those on my team. It was a bit like I was at war with everyone because they wouldn't let me talk."
In the race's 10th stage, the whole peloton decided to ride slowly for the first 100 kilometers (62 miles) without telling Bassons, who only found out because a mechanic on his team told him. With everyone riding at snail's pace, Bassons accelerated and was chased down, before being confronted by an angry Armstrong as the peloton's self-elected sheriff.
"So I attacked to provoke a reaction, and that's when everyone chased me down, the riders in his team, in my team," Bassons said. "Everyone was staring at me and he took advantage to establish himself as the boss. He grabbed me by the shoulder and told me I should leave (the race). I just looked at him with a big smile. It must have angered him even more because he replied with (an expletive)."
Bassons can look back and laugh at that episode now, but the '99 Tour severely affected him.
"Five months of depression followed," he said. "When (Armstrong) says now that you can't win the Tour de France seven times without doping, he's clearly repeating what I said on the '99 Tour and it's for that reason, actually, that he came to see me to tell me that I was hurting cycling and should leave."
Bassons has not been recently contacted by Armstrong, who survived life-threatening cancer before coming back to win the '99 Tour and instantly become an inspirational hero.
"I don't expect any apologies from him. I'm the one who's in a better position now. I'm not the one who needs help," he said. "Some people have been much more destroyed than me ... all of those suffering from cancer have taken a big blow psychologically."
Surprisingly, Bassons is still willing to sit down and talk with Armstrong.
"It might seem strange what I say. As fake as he seems, he suffered at the hands of a system, and within that system he created his own system," Bassons said. "I wouldn't hang up on him (if he called), I would listen to him and why not meet up with him."