Teams call for cull of cheats

Several Tour de France teams and cyclists reacted with anger and indignation at the start of the 16th stage in Orthez on Wednesday - but for some the latest doping revelation is a good sign.

Several Tour de France teams and cyclists reacted with anger and indignation at the start of the 16th stage in Orthez on Wednesday - but for some the latest doping revelation is a good sign.

Kazakh star Alexandre Vinokourov, one of the most respected and successful riders in the peloton, was revealed to have tested positive for blood doping on Tuesday's rest day. And during the 16th stage from Orthez to the Col d'Aubisque, the final day of climbing in the race, reports of another positive rider at the Tour began to emerge.

The peloton lined up for Wednesday's tough day of climbing in the absence of Vinokourov and his Astana team, who departed under a cloud late Tuesday. Some of the more defiant riders demonstrated their anger at those who continue to cheat by staging a brief sit-down protest. But for some of their managers, the fact that Vinokourov has been snared is a positive sign.

"It's better to have a Vinokourov who's been caught than a Vinokourov who is suspect," said Credit Agricole manager Roger Legeay.

Legeay is one of the architects behind an association that was created, ironically, the day the news on Vinokourov was revealed. Its aim is to regroup the professional cycling teams who want to work together to assure a clean future for the sport, and so far eight teams have signed up.

Legeay added: "What has happened in the past 24 hours is good news, it shows that the fight against doping works. Blood doping controls were designed to catch cheats, not avoid them."

But the speculation surrounding Rabobank's race leader Michael Rasmussen is still damaging the race.

AG2R manager Vincent Lavenu said the organisers could do worse than eject the controversial Dane, who has admitted to being warned for missing four random doping tests in the past 18 months. It has caused embarrassment for the International Cycling Union (UCI), and for the organisers who were sullied by American champion Floyd Landis's positive test on stage 17 last year.

"It doesn't seem an outrageous request for me for the Tour to throw Rasmussen out of the race," said Lavenu. "The Tour de France is on the precipice, with (the news on) Vinokourov and with Rasmussen, who was allowed to race by his team despite them knowing all about his missed tests.

"I think Rasmussen just shouldn't be here. But looking at the speeds of some of the riders in the mountains, it looks as though it's not just him (who is suspect)."

Bouygues Telecom's Jerome Pineau meanwhile believes there are a hardcore of around 30-40 riders who are doping on the Tour.

"There's about 30-40 rotten apples in the bunch," he said, admitting he forgot about challenging for a decent place in the overall standings a long time ago. "I don't even look to see where I am in the general classification anymore, it doesn't interest me. All I look at are the stage results, where there's a chance of getting a result. Today there are two pelotons: the French riders and the foreigners who want to ride clean, and the rest."

Kazakh cycling boss accuses Tour of bias

A top official with Kazakhstan's cycling federation on Wednesday accused the Tour de France of bias in the treatment of Kazakh cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov and his Astana team in a doping scandal.

Vinokourov, one of the favourites to win this year's Tour, withdrew from the race with his entire team on Tuesday after failing a test for blood doping after his win in Saturday's time trial stage in Albi.

"We consider this as prejudice against our team, knowing that everywhere in the rules, the rider is responsible for himself and not his entire team," the deputy head of the federation, Nikolai Praskurin, said by phone from France. "They have given us no official confirmation, they have only spoken to us by phone. They do not behave like this with the European teams. Before the tour we were told: 'We don't want the Astana team or Vinokourov to win'," he said.

The federation has hired a US sports lawyer to look into the case, he added.

In a statement, the federation said it was "extremely anxious" and noted that the result of Vinokourov's test had "left it shocked."

It voiced its support for "a clean sporting contest, uncompromised by doping."

However, the federation warned against "hasty conclusions" or premature accusations against the rider and the team. The federation said it was awaiting the results of testing on Vinokourov's B sample.

© AFP 2007

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