Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Former Tour de France winner Riis says cycling should clean up its act

POOR SHOW The CSC team manager expressed his displeasure with the sport's doping scandals and the lack of harmony between the UCI and event organizers

AFP , ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA

Former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis has pleaded for cycling to get its house in order, or face losing further credibility in the eyes of an increasingly suspicious public.

The CSC team manager led his Danish outfit to the top of the Pro Tour rankings last year, despite losing his star rider, Ivan Basso, following damaging but unfounded allegations from a doping investigation in Spain.

Basso, last year's Tour of Italy winner, was released by CSC.

After Italian sporting authorities cleared the Italian ace, who was tipped as Lance Armstrong's successor, he has since moved to Discovery Channel.

It is not just doping and the surrounding allegations, however, which currently threaten the stability of the sport.

Differences between the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the organizers of the three three-week Tours of Italy, France and Spain over the Pro Tour, introduced two years ago, threaten to split cycling in two.

And Riis, who has brought a motivated outfit to the Tour Down Under in the hope that Stuart O'Grady can score a hat-trick of overall victories, says it is time for the warring parties to down their weapons.

"From the outside looking in, it looks as though all cycling has is problems," said Riis, who brought an end to the five-year reign of Spanish legend Miguel Indurain when he won the yellow jersey in 1996. "We have to stand together -- teams, riders, the UCI and the race organizers."

He added: "I think the Pro Tour is good, but there might be a few things we have to change."

The Pro Tour was introduced, some claim in rather hasty fashion, by former UCI president Hein Verbruggen two years ago.

Since then, his Irish successor, Pat McQuaid, has been fighting to promote a series which, although welcomed by most teams, has been given short shrift by the elder statesmen of race organizers.

Combined, ASO, which runs the Tour de France, RCS (Tour of Italy), and Unipublic (Tour of Spain) organize 11 of the Pro Tour's 27 races. They recently declared they were no longer part of the UCI Pro Tour.

The UCI responded with threats of taking the dispute to the European Commission.

ASO then upped the ante by announcing they would not be inviting Pro Tour newcomers, Unibet, to their Paris-Nice race -- the first major stage race of the season -- in March.

Doping allegations were the bane of most of last year, when a Spanish doping probe dubbed Operation Puerto implicated 58 riders, only for most of them to be cleared to race again.

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