French courts are reportedly testing urine samples taken from U.S. cycling hero and two-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and his teammates from last year’s Tour.
A judicial source in France who is close to the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity has said the urine samples, taken from Armstrong and his teammates last year, are being analyzed by experts searching for performance-enhancing drugs.
Three experts have been designated to perform the tests, and judicial officials are waiting for the results.
A major drug scandal overshadowed the 1998 Tour de France, and officials have since become more rigorous in their testing of cyclists. A number of investigations are under way. In the highest-profile case, French cycling star Richard Virenque was recently suspended and fined by the Swiss Cycling Federation after admitting to using banned substances while on the Tour.
EPO Has Been at the Heart of Drug Scandals
Armstrong, who fought testicular cancer and then won the Tour in 1999 and 2000, has repeatedly denied taking illegal substances. U.S. Postal Service officials, the sponsors of Armstrong’s team, have said the team has adhered to anti-doping rules.
Judicial officials are said to have opened an inquiry based on an anonymous tip back late last year. The newspaper Le Monde reported in early November that the preliminary investigation of U.S. Postal Service began after the prosecutor’s office received an anonymous letter saying suspicious behavior had been detected by a TV crew of the state-run France 3 station during the Tour.
According to Le Monde, the TV crew had noticed suspicious activity near the U.S. Postal team. It included the coming and going of two men who loaded large car with German license plates with plastic bags, then unloaded them in another spot.
Compresses, some packaging from foreign products and medicine were among the items found in the plastic bags, Le Monde wrote.
In December, French Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet refused to comply with a request from cycling’s governing body to destroy the frozen urine samples because judicial authorities wanted them for an investigation of Armstrong’s team.
The urine samples were taken from Tour riders in July and frozen in anticipation of International Olympic Committee approval for an EPO urine test developed by a French laboratory.
EPO, or erythropoietin, enhances endurance by boosting the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells. The substance was at the heart of the drug scandal at the 1998 Tour de France.
Although the IOC approved a combined blood and urine test for the Sydney Olympics, it has not approved a urine-only test.
ABCNEWS’s Kate Bouey and The Associated Press contributed to this report.