PORTO VECCHIO, France (Reuters) - Disgraced rider Lance Armstrong, who cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories from 1999-2005, has said it would have been impossible to win the world's greatest cycling race without doping.
Asked if riders won races drugs-free in the era when he competed, a bullish Armstrong told French daily Le Monde on Friday: "It depends on the races. The Tour de France? No. Impossible to win without doping.
"My name was taken out of the palmares (list of achievements) but the Tour was held between 1999 and 2005 wasn't it? There must be a winner then. Who is he? Nobody came forward to claim my jerseys."
France's five-times Tour champion Bernard Hinault was quick to react, telling local TV channel BFM: "He must not know what it was like to ride without doping."
Armstrong later made it clear in a tweet he was speaking about the 1999-2005 period and added: "Today ? I have no idea. I'm hopeful it's possible."
Speaking to Reuters, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said: "It is time that those who tarnished the image of the Tour leave it alone."
Last year, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) published a report into Armstrong's doping program, calling it "the most sophisticated in the history of sport", leading to the American being banned for life and losing his Tour titles.
"I did not invent doping. Sorry, Travis," the 41-year-old Texan said, referring to USADA CEO Travis Tygart. "And it (doping) has not stopped with me. I just took part in the system.
"The USADA 'reasoned decision' perfectly managed to destroy a man's life but it has not benefited cycling at all."
Armstrong also hit out at the International Cycling Union (UCI), who have been heavily criticized for not doing enough to catch the American.
"(UCI president) Pat McQuaid can say and think what he wants. Things just cannot change as long as McQuaid stays in power," he said.
"The UCI refuses to establish a 'Truth and Reconciliation commission' because the testimony that everyone would want to hear would bring McQuaid, (his predecessor) Hein Verbruggen and the whole institution down," Armstrong added without elaborating.
The 2013 Tour de France starts on Saturday.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by John O'Brien and Alison Wildey)