The growing possibility of Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso escaping bans from their alleged implication in a doping ring in Spain is starting to cause concern in some sections of the peloton.
The pair were among 13 riders prevented from racing the Tour de France in July when evidence from a Spanish doping investigation dubbed `Operation Puerto' suggested their involvement in the ring.
It has been suggested this week however the evidence from Spain may not be legally valid to force either the national federations (NF) concerned or the International Cycling Union (UCI) to sanction the pair.
Basso, still employed by CSC but who is said to be talking to other teams, is the reigning Tour of Italy champion.
Ullrich, who was sacked by T-Mobile in July, is a 32-year-old former Tour de France winner who has made millions from the sport.
Both riders were pulled out of the Tour by their respective teams before the July 3 start in what was seen as a largely preventative move while authorities further investigated evidence.
Now, after three months of the UCI compiling the evidence from Spain and sending it out to the NFs, it could all be for nothing.
The possibility that Basso and Ullrich will get off scot-free is gaining impetus, so much so that the pair have already been linked to Pro Tour teams for next season.
On Monday Ullrich was cheekily linked in the Spanish press with a move to the Discovery Channel team of his biggest rival -- the now-retired seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.
That report was soon kicked into touch by the American team's manager, Johan Bruyneel. "We've never contacted Ullrich. I consider him a great rider but our roster for 2007 is full and Jan isn't on it," said Bruyneel.
Basso has attended two hearings at the Italian Olympic Committee since the affair but Italian officials said in recent weeks there was "little real" evidence against him.
A decision on whether to sanction the Italian may not be taken until the end of this month.