Veteran commentator Phil Liggett has said Lance Armstrong would have won the Tour de France even if he hadn't doped.
The 77-year-old journalist, who covered 48 editions of the world's biggest cycling race, said that Lance was 'naturally just extremely good'.
He made the comments in an interview with Australian broadcaster 7news.
Liggett, who has a long and complicated history with the Texan born cyclist, said: “When Lance realised that the Tour de France was drug-ridden, he told his team ‘We’ll do it and we’ll do it better than they do it'.
“And if they didn’t agree, they were off the team.
"Most of his team had to take drugs just to back him up ... because Lance was exceptional."
Liggett, who used to regularly talk at Armstrong's Livestrong rallies, said Lance would often do multiple ascents of some of the highest Alpine climbs in training.
He continued: “He would climb L’ Alpe d’Huez, the most fabled mountain in the Tour de France, in training with his team and when they got to the top, which was over 5000 feet high, he would turn around and descend the 16km and then climb it again.
“But the management wouldn’t let the team do it because Lance would wear the team out.
"He would wear them out when he went training, he was that good.
“And he wasn’t taking drugs when he went training. He was naturally just extremely good.”
When asked if he thought Armstrong could have won the TdF without drugs, Liggett replied: "No question."
Armstrong, now 49, has made similar claims in the past and in an interview with NBC in 2019 he said he would have won the Tour if everyone was clean.
His former directeur sportif, Johan Bruyneel, 56, also recently called Armstrong the 'strongest rider of his generation with or without doping'.
Liggett continued: “Don’t forget [Lance] was racing against other drug users, they also passed the drug test but the fact is the Tour de France itself didn’t promote the second-place riders to wins, that’s unprecedented.
“We’ve got seven Xs in the history books.
"All the guys who finished second have all had drug involvement or controversial situations but they were never nailed.
“But they didn’t give them Lance’s victories, there’s simply no winners at the Tour de France for seven years, so they knew the guys in second place took drugs but couldn’t prove it.
“It was a different world back then - guys were dying left, right and centre. Young riders were dying.”
Armstrong is often accused of being the 'ring leader' who encouraged other riders to dope and got rid of those who refused to do so.
USADA famously said the US Postal team had been operating the most 'sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program' in the history of sport.
Armstrong has always insisted he was simply part of a deep-rooted culture that existed long before he joined the ranks of the pro-peloton.
Liggett, who, like many others, at one time called the accusations against Lance 'ridiculous', said he still admires the former US-Postal rider but cannot condone what he did.
He said: “I haven’t spoken to Lance as a friend since 2011, he’s never contacted me but you know even when I was working with him, he’d only contact me with one-liners saying ‘Hey do you know this guy’ or ‘Can you do that in LA’.
“Those were the longest emails he ever sent me because Lance was his own person, I never mixed in his inner circle which was like five guys.
“So we can never say we were close friends but I certainly admired him enormously on both fronts, his riding style and his work in raising 600 million bucks for cancer.
“I’ve got no mixed feelings, people say ‘You must hate him’ - I would never hate Lance Armstrong at all.
“I still admire him, I know how he beat cancer, I know how he fought hard and that’s the mentality of the man who can only do things one way and that’s the very best way.
“I admired him for his achievements but I can’t condone drug cheats, it’s not for me, I just can’t do that.”
Lance won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times, from 1999 to 2005, after recovering from testicular cancer.
Following years of accusations and investigations in 2012 he was finally stripped of all his titles.
A short while later in 2013 he admitted for the first time that he doped throughout his career.
A new documentary about Phil Liggett's life entitled, Phil Liggett: The Voice of Cycling is set for release on March 8.
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