Paris - Shamed US cyclist Lance Armstrong believes it is impossible to win cycling's greatest race without using banned substances, he said in an interview with Le Monde on Friday, on the eve of the 100th edition of the Tour de France.
"It's impossible to win the Tour de France without doping because the Tour is an endurance event where oxygen is decisive," he was quoted as saying by the French daily.
He added: "To take one example, EPO (erythropoetin) will not help a sprinter to win a 100m but it will be decisive for a 10 000m runner. It's obvious."
Armstrong, who won the Tour a record seven times between 1999 and 2005, was last year exposed as a serial drug cheat in a devastating US Anti-Doping Agency report that plunged cycling into crisis about the extent of drug-taking in the peloton.
The Texan rider, who insisted for years that he did not take performance-enhancing drugs, was stripped of his Tour titles and banned from the sport for life.
He then admitted in a television interview that he used a cocktail of banned substances, including the blood booster EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions, to win the Tour.
Armstrong told Le Monde that he was not the first athlete to dope and there would always be a doping culture.
"I simply took part in this system. I'm a human being," he said, admitting that he could never erase the past but would strive to make up for it for the rest of his life.
Five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault reacted angrily to Armstrong's comments and his claims that there was a doping culture in cycling.
"We've got to stop thinking that all cycle racers are thugs and druggies," he told BFM TV.
"It depresses me to hear all this. I think that when people do exactly what they have to do, in other words, proper testing in all sports, we're going to be rolling around laughing for five minutes.
"Stop saying it's cultural for God's sake. It's impossible. There are plenty of young riders who've had dope tests and not tested positive...
"It's constant suspicion," he told the channel from Corsica, where the Tour gets under way on Saturday.
Hinault on Thursday lashed out at claims that his fellow French cyclist Laurent Jalabert took EPO on the scandal-hit 1998 Tour, claiming that people wanted to "kill" the race.