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Cyclist Lance Armstrong's hair tested in new anti-doping effort

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PARIS - Lance Armstrong has undergone hundreds of urine and blood tests throughout his cycling career. This time, he was in for a surprise - a hair sample test.

Armstrong and French anti-doping agency AFLD said Wednesday that he was approached for a hair sample in an unannounced test Tuesday in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in southern France, where he is training as part of his comeback for a crack at an eighth Tour de France title.

Armstrong said it was the 24th anti-doping test he's faced since he announced his return in September, and the first time he's ever been asked to provide a sample of hair.

"I'm fully aware that it's part of the job. I knew that going in. I'm a little surprised by the frequency but I'm not complaining," he said.

A French anti-doping inspector armed with a pair of scissors took six clumps of Armstrong's hair that will now be tested for signs of drug use, said Jean-Pierre Verdy, the French anti-doping agency's director of doping controls.

"He didn't make my hair look very good," said Armstrong, who also gave blood and urine samples. "That's why I cut it after that, after he butchered it. There were a few good stripes at the back so we just buzzed it down."

Testing of hair samples is allowed under French law, but is not recognized by the World Anti-Doping Agency or cycling's governing body UCI.

International doping controls are based on urine and blood tests.

"To date hair testing is not considered to be sufficiently reliable for sanctioning anti-doping violations by the vast majority of the experts that WADA consulted," WADA spokesman Frederic Donze told The Associated Press by e-mail. "However, hair testing can provide valuable information that can lead to target testing by anti-doping organizations, for example."

Donze said most anti-doping experts still consider blood and urine samples as most accurate for testing, particularly for testosterone.

"Risk of external contamination is a significant issue with hair, much more than with blood and urine," he said.

Doping accusations, especially from the AFLD, have dogged Armstrong since the beginning of his run to a record seven straight Tour de France victories. He has never tested positive.

"He needs to know that he is like everyone else," AFLD chief Pierre Bordry said Wednesday. "To have done this test yesterday was a good way to make him realize that he is like everyone else."

Bordry warned that Armstrong can face more scrutiny.

"It's not because you get tested a lot that you will be tested less in competition or in training," he said.

News of Armstrong's test came as the ALFD published hair test results suggesting widespread use among French athletes of DHEA, a banned substance that can be used to boost testosterone levels.

The AFLD tested hair samples of 138 French football players, rugby players, track and field athletes and cyclists.

Twenty-two tests, or about 16 per cent, showed signs of DHEA. Body builders have long used DHEA, but until now it was assumed to be limited among other athletes.

Bordry called the results "quite worrisome," but said French athletes with "abnormal results" would not be sanctioned because this is the first time the AFLD has conducted hair tests.

"We hope that those who are taking these products stop taking them, because it's very bad for their health," he said. "It's more important to tell them to stop taking them than to sanction the athletes."

WADA prohibits DHEA, but urine and blood tests have proved ineffective in detecting its use.

"We have essentially no chance of finding this substance," AFLD scientific expert Michel Rieu said.

It can be detected in urine or blood only within 24 to 48 hours of its administration, he said. Hair tests are more effective, he said.

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