World champs aim to stay scandal-free

The world road race cycling championships click into gear in Stuttgart on Wednesday amid potential controversy following another scandal-hit season in the peloton.

Cycling is still recovering from the fall-out of this summer's Tour de France which was marked by doping controversies as three riders and two teams withdrew from the race following positive doping tests. The biggest name to fail a drugs test was pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov, forcing his Astana team to promptly withdraw and the Stuttgart organisers are desperate to avoid any similar scenes.

But this world championships has already courted controversy when last year's silver medallist, Erik Zabel, was selected despite organisers insisting he was not welcome. Zabel's inclusion comes despite his confession in May to having "briefly" used the banned blood-booster erythropoietin in 1996, when he won the first of his six points competition, whose prize is the green jersey, at the Tour de France.

Despite his offence occurring over a decade ago, Dieter Kuehnle, vice-president of the German Cycling Federation (BDR), resigned in protest at Zabel's inclusion while Susanne Eisenmann, the president of the event's organising committee, was firm in her stance.

"We are completely unsatisfied with the decision to include Zabel," she said at the time. "We must wonder about the integrity of this decision at a time when we talk about a new start for professional cycling."

Amongst the favourites in the elite men's road race are Australian Cadel Evans, who finished second in this year's Tour de France, while last year's gold medalist Paolo Bettini is back to defend his title.

The course for Sunday's elite men's race is 14 laps of the circuit totalling 267.4kilometres and has two key demanding ascents.

The men's Under-23 Time Trial takes place on Wednesday, the same day as the women's elite time trial. On Thursday, there is the elite men's time trial. With a rest day on Friday, the women's elite road race takes place on Saturday morning, with the men's Under-23 race in the afternoon.

The elite men's road race, whose prize is the rainbow jersey - second only to the Tour de France's yellow jersey in the prestige stakes - takes place on Sunday.

© AFP 2007

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