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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 08:07 GMT
Le Tour looks for London boost
Map of Tour de France 2007 prologue route
By Simon Austin

The excitement about the Tour de France's first visit to London is in stark contrast to the cynicism surrounding the event as a whole.

On Wednesday, the London organisers of "Le Grand Depart" outlined their vision of the three days that the race will be in the capital.

They talked about the lavish opening ceremony in Trafalgar Square, the Tour-opening prologue that will take in some of London's most famous landmarks, and a first stage that will wend its way through the Kent countryside towards Canterbury.

Transport commissioner Peter Hendy said the three days will boost London's economy by more than 100m and hopefully encourage people to get on their bikes.

Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins, who was sitting alongside Hendy, said winning the prologue would be the highlight of an already illustrious career.

Yet the mood darkened when a journalist asked the panel if they thought the sport was now clean.

Bradley Wiggin and James Cracknell
I know there is scepticism but as an athlete all those problems from last year go away at the start of this season

Bradley Wiggins

Chris Boardman, Britain's most successful cyclist of all time, said: "If we can do more, tell us what to do.

"Cycling has got twice as many doping control methods as any other sport in the world.

"The authorities have done everything they possibly can in my view. We need the passage of time to prove that (the sport is clean) and to start to focus on sport itself."

Cycling has been in a state of flux since last May, when Spain's Civil Guard carried out raids that uncovered anabolic steroids, blood transfusion equipment, bags of frozen blood and documents listing around 200 professional athletes who police said were receiving illegal doping treatment.

606 DEBATE: Will the Tour benefit from coming to London?

More than 50 riders, including pre-Tour favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, were implicated and many withdrawn from the Tour.

The case collapsed at the end of last year, when the Spanish judge overseeing the case said the evidence gathered could not be used as a basis for punishing the cyclists.

We do not even know the identity of the 2006 winner yet. Floyd Landis finished first, but subsequently tested positive for synthetic testosterone and was stripped of the title.

The US anti-doping authority does not expect to hear the case until late Spring at the earliest and Landis has already written off the whole 2007 season.

Oscar Pereiro, last year's runner-up, was only last week cleared of doping charges after twice testing positive for salbutamol during the 2006 Tour.

Map of Tour de France 2007 stage one route

No-one at the Tower of London on Wednesday was likely to have felt these mixed emotions more keenly than Wiggins.

The 26-year-old grew up in Maida Vale, London, and winning a stage of the Tour in his hometown would fulfil a childhood dream.

Yet Wiggins knows that the issue of doping continues to cast a dark shadow over his sport.

Indeed, only last week his hero Johan Museeuw admitted to having doped during his career.

"It's frustrating that we are no further in the knowledge of what happened last July and don't even have an official winner yet," Wiggins told BBC Sport.

"And it was frustrating to be continually asked what I thought about it during last year's Tour. I just tried to give my honest opinion."

Wiggins said testing procedures had become even more stringent since Operation Puerta.

Cycling's governing body, the UCI, requires that all of its riders let them know their whereabouts every day.

Le Grand Depart
6 July: Opening ceremony. Trafalgar Square
7 July: Prologue. 7.9km lap of central London, starting on Whitehall and ending on the Mall
8 July: Stage one. Starts in central London and finishes in Canterbury
His team, Cofidis, carries out four hair tests on its riders every year and the French authorities take four blood tests per year.

"Doping became a massive image problem for Cofidis," said Wiggins. "The chief executive of the company chose to keep investing in the team, but he wanted proof it was clean.

"We've got a new manager, a whole new set of staff and new testing procedures."

Wiggins is now training for the upcoming world track championships and says he must try and forget the doping controversies afflicting the sport.

"If I was ever open to anything and got tested positive, I would never be able to show my face again," he said.

"I worked my way to the top through hard work. I know there is scepticism but as an athlete all those problems from last year go away at the start of this season.

"When I see an update on Landis, I don't read it. You've just got to forget about it, or it distracts from what you're doing.

"You have to have faith in the testing procedures. There comes a point where you have to get on with it."

Chris Boardman, Britain's most successful ever cyclist and winner of three yellow jerseys, said: "The Tour de France allows people to see why they were watching the sport in the first place."

Le Grand Depart will undoubtedly be a great spectacle. Three million people lined the route when the Tour visited the south coast in 1994, and even more will turn out to watch this time.

Wiggins is one of the favourites to win the prologue and stars of the future could be inspired to take up the sport by seeing him in person.

Yet cycling has a far bigger and more important challenge to face - to prove that it is clean and eradicate the cynicism and suspicion currently surrounding the sport.

SEE ALSO
Landis 'writes off 2007 season'
30 Jan 07 |  Cycling
Riders escape doping proceedings
27 Oct 06 |  Cycling
Drug probe forces out Tour stars
30 Jun 06 |  Cycling
Millar nervous about Tour return
30 Jun 06 |  Cycling
Cycling's latest scandal
01 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Tour rider in failed doping test
26 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Ullrich will not contest sacking
25 Jul 06 |  Cycling


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