Tue, Jul 31, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Tour de France ends with a whimper

DOPINGS AND DISQUALIFICATIONSAlberto Contador received the winner's yellow jersey on the Champs Elysees, but that is not the memory that will linger for the fans


The Tour de France ended on Sunday after three weeks of unwelcome controversy and drama which has led to calls for far-reaching reforms ahead of next year's event.

One of the most tainted editions of the race since the Festina doping scandal in 1998 ended in triumph for Discovery Channel's yellow jersey winner Alberto Contador on the Champs Elysees.

But with the eviction of two entire teams and a long-running controversy which led to the ejection of former race leader Michael Rasmussen, the 24-year-old Spaniard's victory was almost completely overshadowed.

Inevitably, cycling -- and the Tour -- has lost face, especially for those who believe that weeding out the drugs cheats with the tests designed for the job is a sign that the sport is in bad health.

As cycling looks for solutions to the problem, the peloton has mixed opinions.

"I'd be more worried if there were no positive cases than some cases," said Belgian Tom Boonen, who finished the race with the sprinters' green jersey.

"The anti-doping tests now are much better, and we know now who to look for, and what to look for," he said.

For Frenchman Jerome Pineau, there's still plenty of weeding out to be done.

"We have to have a shake up of the whole system. I'm fed up of seeing guys riding up mountains at over 40kph," he said.

It took two positive tests within two days to shake up the race, despite the speculation surrounding Rasmussen after the revelations he had missed four random doping controls in two years.

Kazakh star Alexandre Vinokourov, the pre-race favorite, tested positive for homologous blood doping, and then Italian Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone.

As a result, their respective teams, Astana and Cofidis were ejected.

Yet it was the controversial exit of Rasmussen that caused the biggest stir.

The Rabobank team finally threw him out after discovering he had lied to them over his whereabouts during a missed drug test last month.

An ex-professional testified he had seen the Dane in Italy, training in the Dolomite mountains while the cyclist claimed he'd missed the control because he was preparing for the Tour in Mexico.

His Dutch outfit, who had given him the benefit of the doubt as he sat in the yellow jersey, finally cracked under the pressure.

The Rasmussen case demonstrated the extent to which athletes can toy with the anti-doping bodies. He missed two random doping controls by the UCI, and two by Anti-Doping Denmark (ADD), but in legal terms neither the UCI nor his team could ban him from racing.

Tour organizers were livid that Rasmussen had been allowed to compete, and thus go on to drag the race through the mire.

Patrice Clerc, the president of the race's parent company Amaury Sports Organisation, said the Tour will return bigger and better next year.

But he is expecting more from the UCI, whom he blames for the entire Ramussen saga because they had prior knowledge of his missed tests.

"People will look at the Tour and see it has been tainted, but they will also know that all of what has happened could have been avoided," Clerc said.

UCI chief Pat McQuaid said he had been powerless to stop Rasmussen racing, and that the badly-timed news of his skipped tests had come down to a communication mix-up.

"It was not brought out deliberately to discredit the Tour," he said.

Neither side, who have been feuding on and off for the past three years, will get very far without mutual collaboration.

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