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Armstrong reacts to 'reopening' of Puerto doping case

Lance Armstrong, who marks his comeback to cycling on Sunday after three years, has called for a probe into sports including tennis and football after an unconfirmed announcement that Spanish authorities are to reopen the Puerto doping investigation.

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AFP - Former Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong called for a probe into sports including tennis and football, following unconfirmed reports that the Spanish authorities are to reopen a potentially damaging doping investigation.

El Pais newspaper reported Saturday that 'Operation Puerto' - which led to the arrest of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes following a raid on a Madrid laboratory in May 2006 - is to be reopened following the initial shelving of the case.

The investigation was originally launched in May 2006. During the raid police uncovered banned substances and bags containing blood, complete with codenames said to link several top cyclists to a blood doping network run by Fuentes.

Although around 200 athletes from various sports were initially said to have been involved, the subsequent investigation focused solely on the 50-60 cyclists alleged to be implicated in the network.

Italian star Ivan Basso was the biggest victim of an investigation which also led, indirectly, to the retirement of former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich of Germany.

Basso admitted to being implicated in the affair and has recently returned from a two-year ban. He was snared by a codename on a blood bag, labelled with the name of his dog 'Birillo'.

Ullrich denied all involvement, but suspicions - and a positive DNA match on blood found at Fuentes' laboratory - ultimately led to the German's decision to hang up his bike before any serious sanction could be handed down.

The 37-year-old Armstrong meanwhile will launch his comeback at the six-day Tour Down Under here Tuesday.

Flanked by Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel, on Saturday as he explained his decision to return to the sport, Armstrong said that if 'Operation Puerto' is to be re-opened, the authorities must also look into the other sports said to be involved.

"I think what we have to remember here is that it's not a cycling controversy, it's a sports controversy," Armstrong said.

"Let's talk about tennis, let's talk about soccer, and everybody else involved."

Bruyneel said: "It's only been about cycling, and apparently there's other sports involved."

On Saturday, officials from the sport's ruling body the International Cycling Union (UCI) were unavailable for comment when contacted by AFP.

However, UCI chief Pat McQuaid has in the past expressed his frustration at the Spanish authorities' decision to shelve an investigation which, some observers feel, unfairly targeted cycling while ignoring the possible implication of top athletes from more high profile sports.

In April 2007 McQuaid made a plea in a letter to the Spanish authorities "to proceed with the identification of the blood that is in their possession or, at least, to make partial samples available for identification.

"The UCI now makes an urgent appeal ... to ensure that the competent authorities do whatever is in their jurisdiction to have the Puerto affair examined down to the last detail."

If fully re-opened by the Spanish authorities, the investigation could unearth some highly controversial evidence - although as of Saturday it was unclear to what extent any such probe would be carried out.

El Pais claimed a provincial court in Madrid has ruled that there were indications of "an offence against public health" which merited renewed examination and had therefore called for the investigation to be re-activated.

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