French Minister for Sport Roselyne Bachelot hit out Thursday at cycling’s world ruling body, calling for a more stringent approach to carrying out the doping controls on the race.
An incident involving the Astana team of race favourites Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong last week prompted France’s national anti-doping agency (AFLD) to hit out at the International Cycling Union (UCI).
AFLD president Pierre Bordry said the UCI had been “lenient” in its handling of collecting samples for testing from the team. Reports later claimed Astana kept UCI doping inspectors waiting for nearly an hour as samples were sought.
Bachelot on Thursday said “there should be no repeat of the incident”, and while stressing her support for Bordry she said both the UCI and the AFLD should stick to their respective jobs in the race.
“I want to remind everyone of their responsibilities,” said Bachelot in an interview with RTL radio. “The UCI has this year been given the task of fighting against doping. The AFLD, which is 95 percent funded by the French sports ministry, has the responsibility of targeting riders. I therefore want to remind all parties of their responsibilities, in particular following the regrettable incident of last Saturday where the UCI displayed a certain laxness during the testing of the Astana team.
“To avoid any kind of contestation in the future, we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he added. “Although we understand that not all the riders can be tested simultaneously, they must remain within sight of the controllers so there can be no doubt surrounding the execution of the controls.”
Bordry said recently, without giving concrete examples or more details, that it appeared the UCI was being lenient towards certain athletes.
“It seems there’s a bit of leniency when it comes to dealing with cyclists. The UCI has a less professional approach. I’m not sure the same rules are being applied to everyone in the same conditions,” said Bordry.
UCI chief Pat McQuaid responded by denying any wrongdoing on the part of UCI controllers.
The UCI did not carry out the doping controls at last year’s Tour de France because of a feud with the race owners, which escalated during the Paris-Nice in March.
It meant the AFLD targeted, and carried out the majority of the controls at the 2008 edition, at or after which a total of seven riders were caught using CERA, a new variant of the banned blood-booster EPO (erythropoietin).
Italian Riccardo Ricco, and Spanish duo Manuel Beltran and Moises Duenas all tested positive for CERA and were thrown off the race.
Kazakh rider Dmitri Fofonov tested positive for a banned stimulant on the last day of the race.
In the months that followed it was revealed Ricco’s teammare, Leonardo Piepoli, had also tested positive for CERA, a fate also met by German Stefan Schumacher and Austrian Bernard Kohl.
Stage 13 could be trouble, Armstrong explains
Lance Armstrong has warned the 13th stage of the Tour de France Friday could be a source of trouble when the riders tackle the 8.7km-long Col du Platzerwasel’s monster climb.
Lance armstrong chats up the media before stage 12 thursday.:LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images
But Armstrong says the Platzerwasel, whose summit is 62km from the finish, will sort the men from the boys.
“The climb up Col du Platzerwasel will be difficult, it is a long way and it will be a real stage,” said Armstrong prior to the start of the 12th stage Thursday, before which he sat third overall at eight seconds. “It is a longer day and anything can happen. I know the area, but not that particular climb.”
Featuring only 30km of climbing over five hilltop passes, the stage has been designed to make some riders think twice about shrugging off the difficulty of the climbs in the Vosges.
The Col du Platzerwasel is a category one beast with an average gradient of a punishing 7.6 percent. Some sections near the bottom are over nine percent. The climb could be made tougher if rain falls, as predicted.
And cancer-survivor Armstrong admitted having some concerns following Wednesday’s crash after 27kms which saw several riders tumble to the tarmac.
“It is something which keeps you up at night, you have to constantly pay attention, I try to give myself a bit of space from people in front of me so I have a bit of time to brake,” said Armstrong, who broke his collarbone in a crash in a race in Spain last March.
While Armstrong is only eight seconds behind Italian yellow jersey holder Rinaldo Nocentini, Astana teammate Alberto Contador is two seconds ahead of him in second overall.
A bunch of challengers who have far more time to make up – Australian Cadel Evans (3:07), defending champion Carlos Sastre (2:52), Luxemburger Andy Schleck (1:49) and Russian Denis Menchov (5:17) – could use the stage to try and close their deficits.
“You have to watch all the rivals, even someone like Menchov,” added Armstrong.
“Some might say he is five or six minutes behind and his race is finished, but if he gains back time he has the Alps and then if he is close enough on the (Mont) Ventoux, he could present a problem.
“I would put Carlos (Sastre), the Schleck brothers (Andy and Frank) and (Cadel) Evans in the most dangerous category and then the others are just behind.”
“To put an end to the controversy which is compromising the running of the Tour de France, the International Cycling Union Management Committee has decided not to repeat the experiment of a stage without radio communication on Friday 17th July,” it said in a statement.
Race radios were banned for the 10th stage of the race, a move which prompted 14 of the Tour’s 20 teams to submit a petition in protest.
The UCI said it will “continue to consult” with those involved on the usage of radios during racing.
Stage 12 abandons: Coppel, Furlan, Roman Feillu and Costa
Frenchman Jerome Coppel of the Française des Jeux team and Italian Angelo Furlan of Lampre pulled out of the Tour de France during the race’s 12th stage on Thursday.
The pair were later joined by Frenchman Roman Feillu of the Agritubel team.
Furlan was the first to pull out the race, shortly after the peloton had set an imposing pace of 47.9km for the first hour of racing.
An hour later the Italian was followed by Coppel who abandoned before the halfway point of the 211.5km ride from Tonnerre to Vittel.
Feillu, who wore the race’s yellow jersey for a day last year and whose younger brother Brice won the race’s first stage in the mountains, to Arcalis in Andorra, began struggling early in the race.
After three hours of racing he had a 15-minute deficit to the main peloton and pulled out shortly afterwards.
Earlier Thursday it was confirmed that Portuguese Rui Costa had left the race following a crash in Wednesday’s stage from Vatan to Saint-Fargeau.
The Caisse d’Epargne rider, competing in his first Tour, sustained ligament injury to his collarbone and was set for further scans in Portugal.
Leipheimer may not start stage 13: injured wrist
Lance Armstrong’s Astana team-mate Levi Leipheimer, currently fourth in the Tour de France general classification, faces an anxious wait to see if he will be able to ride in Friday’s 13th stage.
Astana teammates levi leipheimer and lance armstrong race stage 12 of the 2009 tour de france july 16. : astana teammates levi leipheimer and lance armstrong race stage 12 of the 2009 tour de france july 16.PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images
Quiet before the storm Thursday during the Tour
The 35-year-old took a tumble 2km from the finish line and crossed the line at the back of the peloton to end the race five mins, 58 seconds behind stage winner Nicki Sørensen.
Leipheimer remains fourth at 39 seconds behind yellow jersey-holder Rinaldo Nocentini with Astana team-mates Alberto Contador second at six seconds and Armstrong third at eight.
Three-time Tour of California winner and 2007 Tour third-place finisher Leipheimer has been left with bruising to the right side of his back and road rashes on his right shoulder, lower back and hip, but his injured wrist is the biggest cause for concern.
“My wrist hurts, it will be uncomfortale tomorrow, but surprisingly, I am okay – it could have been much worse,” said Leipheimer, whose injury did not warrant an X-ray. “With 2km to go, my tyre was sliding and I couldn’t save my bike from sliding out.
“I slid out and hit the kerb, I saw (Columbia’s) Mick Rogers come over me onto the grass, I have heard he will be okay.”