Tour of Germany stops; ARD and ZDF won't show Tour de France

'Black Thursday' hits cycling in Germany

Professional cycling suffered a Black Thursday in Germany when organisers announced the scrapping of the 2009 Tour of Germany the same day broadcasters pulled the plug on covering next year's Tour de France.

German media giants ARD, the number-one broadcasters here, and fellow national television channel ZDF announced Thursday they would not cover the Tour de France again because of recent cases of failed drugs testing.

And just hours later, the German Cycling Federation (BDR), in a statement with the organisers, announced the 2009 Deutschland Tour would not take place for the same reason.

"We regret taking this decision, but it had to be done," said Tour of Germany organiser Kai Rapp.

The development came after the organisers met with their financers and the decision was taken to cancel the national event indefinitely.

The scrapping of the German Tour and the decision by both ARD and ZDF comes less than 24 hours after Austria's Bernhard Kohl, who finished third overall in last year's Tour de France, admitted to using CERA, the new generation of banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin).

Kohl was the fourth rider on this year's Tour after Italian duo Riccardo Riccò and Leonardo Piepoli and Gerolsteiner team-mate Stefan Schumacher to have been caught out by the new tests for CERA (Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator).

"The sporting value of the Tour de France has been reduced by the accumulation of failed drugs tests," said ARD chairman Fritz Raff after the decision was made following a meeting in Cologne. "Therefore, its broadcast value has sunk deeply."

In Paris, the ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), which organises the Tour de France, said it was stunned by ARD's decision to drop the event from its schedules claiming it could "sadly encourage those fighting against doping to ease up in order to guarantee a broadcast".

"ARD asks that we fight doping but then takes offence when doped riders are found. We must look and find nothing."

ARD pulled the plug on broadcasting the 2007 Tour de France in the middle of the competition after German rider Patrick Sinkewitz failed a drugs test for testosterone.

The broadcasters had been set to renegotiate their contract with Tour organisers to screen next year's race, but Thursday's announcement means there are now no plans to screen the world's premier cycling event here in the near future. The consortium cover a broad range of media including television, radio and websites and German television channel ZDF soon followed ARD's example.

"ZDF will also not broadcast the Tour without ARD," said ZDF's chief spokesman Nikolaus Brender.

Both ARD and ZDF will need to negotiate with the European Broadcast Union (EBU) about the consequences of their actions as both are members of the EBU which had a contract with Tour de France organisers to broadcast the race until 2011. The new contract was agreed in July.

"We always said that we would decide only at the end of the season. Why the EBU acted regardless before that we don't know," said an ARD spokesman.

Thomas Bach, president of the German Olympic Sport Federation (DOSB), was surprised by the broadcasters' decision.

"I consider it premature, the Tour doesn't take place until the summer of 2009," he told German sports agency SID from Cologne. "They should have waited to see what decisions the International Cycling Union (UCI) take."

Thursday's events could have repercussions for German cycling teams like Kohl's former team Gerolsteiner who have stopped racing after their sponsorship was pulled.

Already German dairy manufacturers Milram have said they are considering their options as the already battered image of cycling takes another blow. A Milram spokesman said on Wednesday they had exit strategies in place if needed.

© AFP 2008

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