by Justin Davis (AFP)
LES HERBIERS, France, June 30, 2011- Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme has applauded efforts to weed out the cheats, even if it means unsavory doping revelations leave a black mark on the race.
Even before this year’s Tour de France gets underway Saturday, the controversy of Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol last year is still hanging over the race.
The Spaniard, who claims he ingested the banned substance after eating a contaminated steak, has been cleared to race pending a final ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in August.
While that ruling could leave the world’s premier cycling event with egg on its face — Contador could lose last year’s victory and, if he wins, this year’s if he is sanctioned — the UCI has called for the Spaniard to be viewed as innocent until proven guilty.
Prudhomme has reluctantly agreed and while he knows the Tour de France’s reputation could suffer another blow, he has applauded increased efforts by the International Cycling Union to make the sport drug-free.
“Today there is a real determination to fight, through keeping tabs on riders via the computer whereabouts programme to the biological passport scheme, targeted testing and various other means,” said Prudhomme.
“Cycling is doing its job (in trying to catch the cheats) but the more it does it, the more we suffer.
“I’m convinced, as was Pierre Bordry, the former president of the French National Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) that the majority of the peloton are riding clean.
“But if you’re asking me for a perfect world, within or outside sport, I don’t think it will ever happen.”
While cycling continues to go after dopers and catch them, leading to the perception that the sport is full of cheats, the UCI is unrepentant.
As well as using it’s pioneering biological passport programme, cycling’s world governing body will work in conjunction with the AFLD on this year’s race.
Both bodies have acted on the independent post-race report in 2010 which suggested that although “of good quality”, the race’s anti-doping programme would benefit from far more random tests.
Now, two teams of three controllers — making six in all — will be fully operational every day of the July 2-24 race, with the possibility of riders being asked to provide samples at unsociable hours.
A new rule, recently applied at the Giro d’Italia, has also banned the use of syringes, even if used to inject health-boosting vitamins. Any teams suspected or found using syringes now face sanctions.
Those efforts are to be backed by French customs officials and the National Centre for the Fight Against Threats to the Environment and Public Health (OCLAESP).
Cycling observers will remember that when major scandals have erupted they have been largely down to the efforts of customs officers or dedicated police — such as the Festina scandal in 1998 and Operation Puerto several years ago.
As it has done since over a decade, the entire Tour de France peloton will undergo a medical Thursday at which a blood sample will be taken.