Friday, June 30, 2006

A Stick In The Spokes At "le Tour de France"

T-Mobile rider Jan Ullrich of Germany, sitting inside a car, leaves the T-Mobile team hotel in Blaesheim, near Strasbourg, eastern France, Friday, June 30 2006. Favorites Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and dozens of other cyclists were barred Friday from the Tour de France in a doping scandal, causing a massive upheaval on the eve of cycling's premier race. Tour director Christian Prudhomme said team managers had agreed that riders implicated in a Spanish drug scandal would not be allowed in the race that starts Saturday. Image Credit: AP Photo/Peter Dejong

In what amounts to be a serious move to serve notice that performance enhancing drugs and the practice of doping will not be tolerated in the cycling world, Tour de France officials remove nearly 27% of the starting field one day before the start of the race.

The Tour de France is expected to start Saturday with 50 less riders from a slated starting field of 189. Saturday's prologue of the Tour de France features a 4.4-mile individual time-trial around Strasbourg.

Excerpts from AP via Yahoo! Sports -

Doping scandal strips Tour de France of its favorites
By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer - Updated on Friday, Jun 30, 2006 1:11 pm EDT (Associated Press Writers Mar Roman in Madrid and John Leicester in Strasbourg contributed to this report.)

STRASBOURG, France (AP) -- A doping scandal knocked Tour de France favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso out of the race Friday and threw the world's most glamorous cycling event into chaos.

The decision to bar Ullrich, Basso and others implicated in a doping probe in Spain also sent a strong signal that cheating, or even suspicions of cheating, will not be tolerated.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme said organizers' determination to fight doping was "total."

"The enemy is not cycling, the enemy is doping," he said the day before the start of the Tour.

Riders being excluded will not be replaced, meaning a smaller field than the 189 racers originally expected. And that's not even counting the absence of Lance Armstrong, who retired after winning his seventh straight Tour last year.

It is the biggest doping crisis to the hit the sport since the Festina scandal in 1998 nearly derailed the Tour. The Festina team was ejected from the race after customs officers found a large stash of banned drugs in a team car.

Basso, winner of the Giro d'Italia, and Ullrich -- the 1997 Tour winner and a five-time runner-up -- were among more than 50 cyclists said to have been implicated in the probe that has rocked the sport for weeks.

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Basso and Ullrich's teams said Friday that because their names had come up in the probe they were being withdrawn from the Tour. Ullrich's T-Mobile squad said it also suspended rider Oscar Sevilla and sporting director Rudy Pevenage because of their involvement.

Ullrich insisted he was innocent, and vowed to fight the allegations.

"The only thing I can say so far is that I'm shocked, that I still have nothing to do with this, that I'm a victim now and that I'm prepared (for the Tour) in this year like never before," Ullrich told reporters outside his hotel near Strasbourg, before leaving for home.
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The Spanish scandal erupted in May when police carried out arrests and raids, seizing drugs and frozen blood thought to have been readied for banned, performance-enhancing transfusions.

Since then, the names of riders said to have had contacts with Eufemiano Fuentes, a doctor among those arrested, have leaked in Spanish media.
Then, after more leaks on Thursday, Spanish authorities released details from the probe to Tour organizers and other cycling bodies, showing which riders were implicated in the investigation. It was on the basis of that official information that Tour teams decided to act.

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"It would be big chaos if those riders remain in the race," said the manager of Basso's team, Bjarne Riis. "We have to protect cycling."
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