(AFP) – Shamed US cyclist Lance Armstrong said in an interview with Le Monde on Friday, on the eve of the 100th edition of the Tour de France, that it was “impossible” to win the sport’s most famous race without doping.

Asked 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,” he was quoted as saying by the French daily.

He added: “To take one example, EPO (erythropoetin) will not help a sprinter to win a 100m but it will be decisive for a 10,000m runner. It’s obvious.”

Armstrong, who won the Tour a record seven times between 1999 and 2005, was last year exposed as a serial drug cheat in a devastating US Anti-Doping Agency report that plunged cycling into crisis about the extent of drug-taking in the peloton.

The Texan rider, who insisted for years that he did not take performance-enhancing drugs, was stripped of his Tour titles and banned from the sport for life.

He then admitted in a television interview that he used a cocktail of banned substances, including the blood booster EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions, to win the Tour.

Armstrong told Le Monde that he was not the first athlete to dope and there would always be a doping culture but cycling was being made a “scapegoat” for the practice in all sport.

“I simply took part in this system. I’m a human being,” he said, admitting that he could never erase the past but would strive to make up for it for the rest of his life.

Five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault reacted angrily to Armstrong’s comments and his claims that there was a doping culture in cycling.

“We’ve got to stop thinking that all cycle racers are thugs and druggies,” he told BFM TV.

“It depresses me to hear all this. I think that when people do exactly what they have to do, in other words, proper testing in all sports, we’re going to be rolling around laughing for five minutes.

“Stop saying it’s cultural for God’s sake. It’s impossible. There are plenty of young riders who’ve had dope tests and not tested positive…

“It’s constant suspicion,” he told the channel from Corsica, where the Tour gets under way on Saturday.

Hinault on Thursday lashed out at claims that his fellow French cyclist Laurent Jalabert took EPO on the scandal-hit 1998 Tour, claiming that people wanted to “kill” the race.

UPDATE – UCI issues response

(via UCI press service) UCI President Pat McQuaid, commenting on an article in Le Monde today, issued the following statement:

“It is very sad that Lance Armstrong has decided to make this statement on the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France.

“However, I can tell him categorically that he is wrong. His comments do absolutely nothing to help cycling.

“The culture within cycling has changed since the Armstrong era and it is now possible to race and win clean.

“Riders and teams owners have been forthright in saying that it is possible to win clean – and I agree with them.

“Cycling today has the most sophisticated anti-doping infrastructure in sport. Measures such as the introduction of the blood passport, the whereabouts system and the ‘no-needle’ policy are the backbone of our relentless fight against doping.

“Armstrong has already credited the whereabouts system and the blood passport. As he said himself in his interview with Oprah Winfrey: ‘The introduction of the biological passport [in 2008] worked.’

“Armstrong’s views and opinions are shaped by his own behaviour and time in the peloton. Cycling has now moved on.

“The key thing is that the whole culture in cycling has undergone a complete sea-change. We may not yet have eradicated doping completely – unfortunately there will always be some riders who persist – but we are catching them, and the attitude in the peloton has switched against them.

“We will never turn back – and my work to ensure that we have a clean sport is unrelenting.

“In addition, the UCI is totally committed to conducting an independent audit into its behaviour during the years when Armstrong was winning the Tour. The UCI’s invitation to WADA to work with us on this stands.

“If WADA will not, however, the UCI will press ahead itself and appoint independent experts to carry out this audit.

“The management committee, meeting in Bergen this month, together with the sub-committee appointed to establish the audit together with WADA, have reiterated their total commitment to completing the process.

“And once the audit is completed, the UCI remains totally committed to some form of ‘truth process’ for professional cycling.

“As I have said on numerous occasions, I have nothing to hide and no fear of any investigation or Truth and Reconciliation process. If Armstrong – or indeed anyone else – has evidence to the contrary, he should produce it now and put a stop to this ongoing damage to cycling.”