Illness puts Schumacher under suspicion

Cleared, but world's doping fears continue

Stefan Schumacher took bronze in Sunday's elite men's race at the world road championships having been cleared of a doping suspicion just two days before, it was revealed on Monday.

The German Cycling Federation (BDR) announced the 26-year-old had come under suspicion after an abnormal result when tested in training last Tuesday which had been caused by illness, according to a report by German agency SID.

A second test by the International Cycling Union (UCI) on Friday showed the same abnormalities, but doctors confirmed the result was due to illness rather than doping.

It shows the level of tension generated by a failed drugs test in the cycling community that the German Cycling Federation (BDR) felt compelled to clarify the incident after a summer blighted by scandal.

Cycling's image was badly tarnished after this year's Tour de France was marred when three riders and two teams withdrew following positive doping tests, including pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov and his Astana team.

Schumacher came away with a bronze in front of his home crowd in Stuttgart despite his illness with Italian Paolo Bettini retaining his world crown.

"It was great to get a bronze in front of my home crowd, they were superb and really made the difference for me," said Schumacher. "When Paolo charged for the line, I just didn't have enough power left in my legs to beat him so I hung on for a medal and luckily it paid off."

But Stuttgart's 2007 world road race championships were fraught with controversy.

The organisers had suggested Germany's 2006 silver medalist Erik Zabel should have been prevented from racing after his admission in May he used banned blood-booster erythropoietin (EPO) during the 1996 Tour de France.

And Bettini retained his title despite the stress of an accusation by German television station ZDF he provided former teammate Patrik Sinkewitz with doping products, an allegation he intends to take legal advice over.

The Italian only had the all-clear to defend his crown two days before the race after a bid by organisers to bar him from the competition, because he would not sign an anti-doping agreement to provide a compulsory blood sample.

"In the end, you can only look back at the event with sadness because of the damage done to cycling and the city of Stuttgart," said Zabel.

Stuttgart mayor Wolfgang Schuster admitted he was uneasy having to shake Bettini's hand after the Italian claimed victory.

Schuster has threatened to withhold 600,000 euros due to the UCI because he believes the governing body has not done enough to combat doping at the world championships.

"He won, therefore I congratulated him. But I would have wished for another winner," said the politician.

But Schumacher saw things differently.

"Some riders are not happy with Bettini's refusal to sign," he said. "But the obligation to pay back your annual salary in the event of a positive doping test to the UCI is a high price, especially when there can be errors made in the testing procedure.

"On that basis, I find Bettini's stance acceptable."

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