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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Where now for cycling?
By Charlie Henderson

The Tour de France is in chaos after two days of controversy, directly involving two leading riders and affecting many more.

Race leader Michael Rasmussen was sacked by his team for lying about his whereabouts in the build-up to the Tour, when he also missed drugs tests.

Just 24 hours earlier, pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov and his Astana team were thrown out of the race after he tested positive for blood doping.

BBC Sport looks at the big issues and answers key questions affecting the wider world of cycling.

THE HEADLINES

Spectators taunt Michael Rasmussen with a giant syringe
Spectators taunt Rasmussen with a giant syringe on Wednesday's stage

Race director Christian Prudhomme has described Rasmussen's exit as the "best thing that can happen to the Tour."

The French press are not so positive. France Soir newspaper ran a mock death notice on Thursday saying the Tour had died "at age 104, after a long illness."

And Liberation's editorial demanded "The Tour must be stopped", describing the procession of cyclists as a "caravan of ridicule".

On the English side of the Channel, a little over two weeks after the British media acclaimed the success of Le Grand Depart in London, the mood in print was equally scathing.

  • Tour de Farce Daily Mirror
  • Tour lurches into chaos after Rasmussen expelled by team Independent
  • Rasmussen wins stage and loses everything on day of disaster Guardian
  • Race leader Rasmussen kicked out as the Tour finally dies of shame Daily Mail
  • Corrupt race populated by a cast of frauds heading straight into the gutter Times
  • Ban cheats? Let's ban the whole sport Daily Express

Elsewhere, German public broadcasters stopped airing the race after Patrik Sinkewitz tested positive earlier in the Tour, while one of Switzerland's biggest newspapers stopped writing about it.

IS THIS CYCLING'S BIGGEST SCANDAL?

Floyd Landis celebrates a hollow victory in 2006
Landis celebrates a hollow victory in Paris 12 months ago

Yes. Never before has a race leader been pulled from the Tour, cycling's blue riband event.

Last year's victory for Floyd Landis was placed in doubt four days after he took the podium in yellow on the Champs Elysees and the case still rumbles on in the courts.

The 1998 Tour was dogged by doping scandals from first to last, primarily centring around the Festina team, and was quickly dubbed 'Tour de Dopage'.

Earlier this year Bjarne Riis, a Dane like Rasmussen, confessed to using EPO to help win in 1996 and claimed "for a time it was a part of everyday life for me".

Belgian rider Michel Pollentier attempted to evade doping controls after winning a stage in 1978 but was caught with an intricate tube-and-container system that contained urine that was not his.

And this month is the 40th anniversary of Tom Simpson's death on the slopes of Mont Ventoux after the Briton had taken a fatal mix of amphetamines and alcohol to help his tiring body.

But nothing can match the sensational news of Rasmussen's expulsion and the possible ramifications on the sport.

SHOULD THE TOUR BE CANCELLED?

There have been calls for this year's Tour to be cancelled but this will not happen.

Sponsors have piled the cash in, television networks want the live coverage they have paid for, the calendar is set and the Tour will stop for no man en route to Sunday's finish on the Champs Elysees.

As Guardian cycling journalist William Fotheringham pointed out to BBC Five Live: "It has survived over 104 years.

"I don't think a handful of cheats is going to stop it. But it's going to get to Paris in a very damaged state, just as it did in 1998."

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

Self-policing will clean up the Tour and Britain's David Millar told BBC Five Live the mood in the peloton was good ahead of rolling out on Thursday.

"At the moment nothing is surprising is it? It's all wild," he said.

"The race will carry on. It's good, it goes to show they are reacting rather than putting their heads in the sand. This is really good for the sport."

At the end of the day the rider is the one who makes the decisions

UCI boss Pat McQuaid

His compatriot Bradley Wiggins, who is no longer in the race after Cofidis withdrew following a positive test for Cristian Moreni, paid tribute to the lesser lights of the train.

He said: "For me the true heroes are guys like Sylvain Chavanel and Thor Hushovd who are dragging their arses through the mountains, hanging on, getting dropped, and doing it clean."

As well as the example set by members of the peloton, team bosses can also help.

"The teams need to have more control over their riders," UCI president Pat McQuaid told BBC Five Live.

"They are the ones who need to clean out the riders who are iffy, they need to ensure they can guarantee that everyone of their riders is riding clean and riding fairly.

"The evidence is that most of the time these riders are dealing with individuals from outside their team and the sport whether it be pseudo doctors and chemists who are promising them things. That has got to stop.

"More and more riders like Bradley Wiggins and David Millar are speaking out and it's the younger generation of riders coming in that are going to be the future of the sport. They have to come into a system that is completely ethically correct.

"But at the end of the day, the rider is the one who makes the decisions."

IS THE TOUR JUST TOO HARD?

Riders snake through the high Alps
The peloton goes over the Alps and the Pyrenees

The race has long been tainted by drugs and 'pick-me-ups' and Jacques Anquetil, who won the first of his five titles 50 years ago, once asked: "How do you think they cover that course...on mineral water?"

However, in addition to stamping down on any drugs epidemic in the peloton, organisers need to look at the race itself.

Johan Museeuw, who served a two-year ban from cycling after admitting to doping towards the end of his career, recently told BBC Sport: "It's time to ask if the Tour's too hard."

The Belgian questioned why stages had to be so long and why those in the mountains had to include so many out-of-category climbs.

Just four stages in this year's Tour have been less than the 175km Museeuw suggested as the maximum distance, and one of those included two out-of-category climbs. He insists one is enough in a day.

CAN CYCLING RECOVER?

"My career is ruined," Rasmussen told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. Never mind the Dane, cycling could be ruined.

As well as calls to ban the Tour de France, Jean-Francois Lamour, vice president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, suggested the sport should be withdrawn from the Olympics.

Neither action is likely, particularly as road racing in the Olympics runs over the course of a day as opposed to the endurance marathon riders are currently undertaking in France.

Former British Olympic Association chairman Sir Craig Reedie told BBC Five Live: "It may well be that all road cyclists need some form of anti-doping passport.

"Maybe they need to be tested more often because if the Tour doesn't do this and the international federation doesn't support them then I think the whole event is going to lose meaning."

It is already the most tested sport, but McQuaid says if they need to perform more tests to make it clean they will.

606: DEBATE
skibruce

"I've never denied there is doping and a doping culture in cycling. From the moment I was elected president of the UCI two years ago I admitted there was a doping culture and we need to change that culture.

"We are in the process of changing that culture and it will change in time.

"We need to weed out the bad apples. I hope next year we have a Tour de France with no positive tests. We've had two bad Tour de Frances, we cannot afford a third."

More damaging revelations will send the sponsors running.

Rabobank's head of sponsorship Heleen Crielaard told BBC Five Live: "We are a bank and we want to be reliable. One thing we definitely do not appreciate is lying."

However, despite Rasmussen dragging their image, and that of cycling, into the gutter, Crielaard denied reports the sponsors flexed their considerable influence on this occasion.

Millar, who believes it could take cycling at least "five to 10 years" to get over its doping problem, added: "This doesn't help the younger generation in the slightest. If you are a fan it must be devastating."

And it is equally devastating to hear the sport's greatest champion Eddy Merckx, another five-time Tour winner, concede "my heart is no longer in it" after watching the latest edition of Le Grand Boucle.

But Millar is confident that, while things will get worse before they get better, they will get better.

"We're moving in the right direction but bringing in these more stringent controls we are going to pay a higher price in the immediate future," he told Five Live.

"It's like a soap opera. It's not over yet."



SEE ALSO
Tour reels after days of scandal
26 Jul 07 |  Cycling
Tour hit by fresh doping failure
25 Jul 07 |  Cycling


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