TDF a victory over doping?

2008-07-27 21:08

Paris - Race director Christian Prudhomme hopes the 2008 Tour de France will be remembered as a victory against doping cheats.

The Tour, won by Spaniard Carlos Sastre on Sunday, saw four cyclists kicked out. Three for using the banned blood booster EPO - a drug of choice in cycling and used by Sastre's boss at Team CSC, Bjarne Riis, to win the 1996 Tour - and one for a banned stimulant.

Italian rider Riccardo Ricco was the biggest name to get caught this year, thrilling fans with his daring solo raids in the Pyrenees and then letting them down when it was announced that his performances were fueled by EPO.

"Without doubt we are in a period of transition, I hope in a period of reform," Prudhomme told reporters. "In a few months, I hope we can say that the 2008 Tour de France was when the balance shifted the other way."

The fourth case was announced just after Sunday's final stage around Paris, giving the Tour finale a sour taste amid the colourful celebratory scenes following Sastre's victory.

Dmitriy Fofonov of Kazakhstan tested positive for a "very heavy dose" of a banned stimulant called heptaminol after Thursday's 18th stage, said Pierre Bordry, the head of France's anti-doping agency.

Fofonov was immediately fired by his Credit Agricole team, and was then arrested at his team's hotel and held for questioning.

The last two Tours were rocked by doping scandals, making this year's edition the real test for Prudhomme and the Amaury Sport Organisation which owns the race and is at loggerheads with the UCI, cycling's governing body.

Blood transfusion

Astana rider Alexandre Vinokourov was kicked out last year after testing positive for a blood transfusion and his team quit the race. Cofidis also left after Cristian Moreni was caught using testosterone. Iban Mayo, who rode for the Saunier Duval team, tested positive for EPO but the result was announced after the Tour ended.

Prudhomme's decision not to invite Astana back for this year's race meant there was no defending champion because Alberto Contador of Spain had to stay home.

After Ricco's doping announcement, his Saunier Duval team withdrew from the 2008 Tour and the sponsors ended their deal.

"Saunier Duval left, that suited us well," Prudhomme said of the team.

The showcase event reached arguably its lowest point ever last year when leader Michael Rasmussen was fired by his own Rabobank team just days from the end for lying about his whereabouts when missing pre-Tour anti-doping tests.

"The fundamental difference is that Ricco was caught and Rasmussen never was (for doping)," Prudhomme said.

Two years ago, Floyd Landis overturned a huge deficit to beat Oscar Pereiro with a solo ride full of the same panache shown by Ricco. At only 24-years-old, Ricco arguably had close to a decade of success ahead - if he had not been caught.

Before the 2006 Tour had even started, pre-race favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso were thrown out after being linked to the Operation Puerto blood doping clinic run by a Madrid-based Spanish doctor. Both Ullrich and Basso deny doping.

This year, because of a rift between the ASO and the UCI, testing has been done solely by Bordry's French Anti-Doping Agency - catching Ricco, veteran Manuel Beltran, fellow Spaniard Moises Duenas Nevado, and Fofonov.

"The fight against doping has made enormous progress. The difference between those who cheat and those who chase after them has narrowed considerably," Prudhomme said. "I hope that the organisations that are in charge of this fight have the same determination as the French Anti-Doping Agency on this Tour."

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