Shorts: Steegmans, Puerto, TV ratings

cEwen loses key lead-out man to Boonen, more face judge overseeing Operacion Puerto inquiry, Tour T

cEwen loses key lead-out man to Boonen, more face judge overseeing Operacion Puerto inquiry, Tour T

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Gert Steegmans, who has provided Robbie McEwen with extremely effective high-speed lead-out assistance during the Tour de France, has confirmed he is set to move from Davitamon-Lotto to Belgian rivals Quick Step for the coming two seasons. Steegmans' signing as a key sprint lead-out rider comes at the end of a Tour where Quick Step's 'train' has failed to set Boonen up for a single stage win.

- Ignacio Labarta and Alberto Leon, who are both implicated in the Operacion Puerto investigation, appeared before the inquiry's presiding magistrate in Madrid on Friday. Both men protested their innocence of any wrongdoing, and both refused to answer any questions from legal representatives from the Spanish cycling federation and ex-Kelme pro Jesus Manzano, who have made accusations against the pair. Four-time Spanish mountain bike champion Leon defended himself by saying he is just "a humble worker" and criticised the press for the treatment he had received.

- This may be shaping up as the most exciting and closest fought finish to the Tour de France since 1989, but it seems TV audiences have not been convinced, with viewing figures reported to be well down in France, Germany and the USA. While the absence of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong is likely to have much to do the ratings drop in the US, it seems certain the impact of the Operacion Puerto scandal that saw Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso ejected from the race has proved extremely damaging.

The New York Times reports that viewing figures are down by 52 per cent in the US, while the audience in Germany has plunged by 43 per cent. The improving fortunes of French riders seems to have had no impact on local viewing figures, which are down 23 per cent.

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