Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Cycling: Praying for a Clean Winner; Race Hoping to Avoid Scandal

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Cycling: Praying for a Clean Winner; Race Hoping to Avoid Scandal

Article excerpt

THE forecast for the start of the 2008 Tour de France in Brest, Brittany tomorrow may be clear skies but the race will struggle to escape the dark cloud of drug scandals and scepticism.

Despite officials declaring that cycling has turned a corner and that this year's Tour will be as clean as it has been in years, the week preceding the first stage has been tainted by the conviction of two high-profile stars, indicating the sport is still struggling to escape the stranglehold of cheating.

On Monday, Floyd Landis - the American who won the 2006 Tour but was subsequently stripped of the title - had his appeal against a two-year ban for drug-taking dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. On Tuesday, Denmark's Michael Rasmussen - who was sacked by Rabobank while leading last year's Tour because he had lied about his whereabouts during doping tests - was given a two-year ban by the Monaco Cycling Federation.

When Lance Armstrong retired in 2005 after seven successive Tour triumphs, it was hoped the event would enter a new, less controversial period.

Despite Armstrong never testing positive for a banned substance, doubts remained over the legitimacy of his supremacy following his comeback from cancer, and he was never a popular competitor in France, whose supporters did not like to see their race monopolised by one man. But in the days leading up to the 2006 Tour, favourites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich were both forced to withdraw because of doping charges.

Then Landis, Armstrong's US Postal Service team-mate between 2002 and 2004, completed one of the greatest comebacks of all time to clinch the yellow jersey, but was later found to have excessive levels of testosterone in his system. If that cast a shadow over the Tour, 2007's events brought it to its knees. Rasmussen and his team were thrown out of the race a day after prerace favourite Alexander Vinokourov had also been disqualified. It was known as 'Black Wednesday'. …

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