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[an error occurred while processing this directive] banner Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
1996-2000: Doping and the great recovery
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As the 1996 Tour started, it appeared that Miguel Indurain was the man who would set a new record of six straight victories.

The Tour had even arranged to visit Pamplona, his home town miles across the Spanish border, to pay tribute.

Danish champion Riis
Riis ended Indurain's domination in 1996

Who could stop him? Swiss Alex Zulle had come second in 1995 with Frenchman Laurent Jalabert also fancied from Banesto's Spanish rivals ONCE.

There was also the French housewives' favourite Richard Virenque, but his time trialling ability for inferior to the rest.

It was left to the Dane Bjarne Rijs to do the deed.

He attacked Indurain repeatedly throughout the Tour, and cracked the Spaniard on an amazing day in the Alps.

It was the end of an era, with Indurain retiring months later with an Olympic gold medal in his pocket - not bad for a poor final season.

Riis was no youthful challenger and his sudden elevation to the top table raised eyebrows.

  Tour winners
1996 Bjarne Riis (Den)
1997 Jan Ullrich (Ger)
1998 Marco Pantani (Ita)
1999 Lance Armstrong (USA)
2000 Lance Armstrong (USA)

He was helped by a young team-mate from Germany, who finished second in 1996 and then won the Tour in 1997.

Jan Ullrich appeared to have all the attributes of Indurain - a superb time triallist with the ability to stay with his rivals in the mountains.

Ullrich was also just 23 years old in 1997, and the two northern Europeans had each become their country's first Tour winner.

After the English-speakers in the 1980s, cycling was spreading to further new audiences.

The 1998 Tour would even begin in Ireland, with a ferry transfer similar to that of 1994 when the UK had been visited.

But this was the year when the race nearly came off the rails, as the mirky world of doping in professional cycling was laid bare for all to see.

Riis' win had been the subject of rumours about the Dane's medical state, and there were plenty of tales about a new wonder substance that boosted ordinary riders to superman levels.

EPO was the substance, and the French police knew all about it when they found some in a team car days before the race.

  Also during this era
Doping controversy leads to changes in selection and second rest day
Organisers consider bringing back national teams
First winners from Denmark and Germany
Erik Zabel is the Indurain of the green jersey - five straight wins

As the Tour convoy returned to France, the police and media questions became ever more difficult.

Top teams were thrown off the race and riders were arrested alongside team bosses and doctors.

The riders' response was one of anger at their treatment - and there were roadside sit-ins and go-slows before Paris was reached by a relieved peloton.

Marco Pantani's victory - the first by an Italian in 33 years - was almost forgotten outside his homeland.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, the brilliant way the little climber thrashed Ullrich in the mountains should not be forgotten.

The following year the Tour returned with "ethics" leading the organisers' revised list of priorities.

There was a more stringent selection procedure and stricter testing was introduced by the world governing body.

But it was the identity of the last Tour winner of the 20th Century that provided many with their greatest hopes for the future.

The American Lance Armstrong did raise French suspicions with his amazing comeback from cancer.

But none of them were proven and the rest of the world celebrated the genuine good news story of the second American Tour winner.

Lance Armstrong heads for second win in 2000
Armstrong: Latest Tour master

His first success was regarded by some as a fluke, since Ullrich and Pantani were both absent.

But the millennium Tour left no doubt as the best in the world were decisively beaten by the Texan's second straight win.

His strength in the mountains was obvious while his fast-pedalling riding style seemed to hark back to a different age.

Some of Armstrong's time trialling was every bit as efficient as Indurain in his pomp.

The combination left Ullrich with a third second place - and no doubt a desire for revenge as he approached the 2001 event.

1903-1914 1919-1929 1930-1939 1947-1956 1957-1966
1967-1977 1978-1984 1985-1990 1991-1995 1996-2000

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