Cycling can shed black sheep status: Prudhomme

Tour boss believes in the sport

The head of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, said Tuesday he believed the advent of biological passports would help the sport to shed its "black sheep" status after years of doping scandals.

Speaking in Doha on the sidelines of the Tour of Qatar, Prudhomme said plenty of interest was being shown in this year's Tour and he was convinced the fight against doping cheats would eventually bear fruit to allow cycling "once again to become a sport like others."

After last year's doping-tainted Tour Prudhomme stressed he wanted to make sure that organisers "benefit from complete freedom in the choice of teams participating in our events and, hence, the Tour."

But he added that meant carefully negotiating the minefield laid by the cheats.

Asked if he would, for example, say "you, never again," to the Astana team of Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin, caught doping last year but whose team management has since changed, Prudhomme responded: "I would rather say, Astana, we don't want any of that ever again."

He added it was the organisers responsibility to ensure that there were no repeats and said technological advancements such as the introduction of biological passports for professionals supported by cycling's respective governing bodies would go a long way to cleaning up the sport.

Prudhomme insisted that "the biological passport is going to be a crucial element," but stressed that "we, the Tour de France organisers, are not at the wheel when it comes to fighting doping even if in people's mind we are often seen as responsible for what goes on during our event."

"We have certainly made mistakes and taken our time in admitting them"

The passport will, for example, show up suspect modifications of blood sample readings as a means of helping to unmask the cheats.

Expressing optimism that other sports, including biathlon, would follow suit on the passports, Prudhomme said he was sure their introduction would help to clean up sport.

"It's a stroke of luck for the cycling world to shed finally its black sheep status. We are going to say to the sporting world that we have certainly made mistakes and taken our time in admitting them but that we have since taken the necessary steps to correct those faults.

"My dream is that people will be able once again to regard cycling as a sport just like any other."

Prudhomme insisted that the Tour de France was still sufficiently popular for there to be a flood of applications from towns looking to host the 2009 event, including from as far afield as Japan, Turkey and Qatar in the wake of the successful London prologue stage last year.

© AFP 2008

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