by Justin Davis
PARIS, July 27, 2009 (AFP) – Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme was understandably cautious after celebrating a scandal-free 96th edition here Sunday.
For the first time in living memory the world’s biggest bike race avoided being dragged through the mire by drugs cheats.
On this year’s race only the sublime performances of Contador in the grueling mountain stages prompted some experts to raise eyebrows.
However Contador, who won with a comfortable lead over his rivals, insists he is a clean Tour champion.
“I’m happy to win a Tour de France that has so far been clean,” said the Spaniard.
“I get tested all year long. I make myself available 365 days a year, and I do it willingly. There has been huge investment to fight doping in the sport and for me it’s a good thing.”
After years of seeing the race dragged through the mire, Prudhomme said he is pleased. But the Frenchman believes the fight against the dope cheats is far from over.
“We can’t allow ourselves to believe that things have completely changed, this is a fight that will go on and on,” said Prudhomme.
Prudhomme knows all about doping scandals on the race, in his many years as a journalist and in every year since he began his first tentative steps as the race director in 2006.
Three years ago one of Prudhomme’s first missions was to throw out pre-race favourites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, because of their respective links to the ‘Operation Puerto’ doping affair in Spain.
A year later Astana, then under different management, were ejected after their leader Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping.
It was also in 2007 that Denmark’s Michael Rasmussen, wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey but under huge pressure over doping suspicions, was
ejected from the race.
Rasmussen did not test positive but he was ruled ‘persona non grata’ by the
sport’s authorities after it emerged he had lied about his whereabouts when
being sought out by doping controllers before the race.
The 2008 edition was thrilling, until the first of several riders were
disgraced after testing positive for the banned blood booster EPO
Spanish duo Manuel Beltran and Moises Duenas joined Italian star Riccardo
Ricco in leaving the race early after testing positive for EPO.
After the race it emerged that Ricco’s teammate Leonardo Piepoli, third
place finisher Bernard Kohl and double stage winner Stefan Schumacher had all
tested positive for the latest generation of EPO, CERA.
Given the Tour’s recent history, Prudhomme would be forgiven for holding
his breath: two days after a superb 2006 edition it was revealed that American
winner Floyd Landis had tested positive for testosterone, and disqualified.
As with every year the sporting authorities have cranked up the fight
against the dope cheats and now, in cycling, the use of a ‘biological
passport’ – which registers and charts the riders’ blood samples throughout
their career – has already proven its worth.
Awaiting the results of all the doping tests taken from this year’s Tour
may cause Prudhomme some sleepless nights yet. But for the moment he is
enjoying a scandal-free finish.
“There will be other (positive) cases, that’s just the way it is in sport,”
“But coming through the Tour without having to deal with scandal was
pleasing. I really think things are changing.
“The targeting of riders and the (biological) passport means that nowadays
it is far more difficult to cheat and get away with it.”