Britain’s Mark Cavendish was forced to hold back his anger and frustration in Narbonne at the Tour de France Thursday on a day when celebration should have been his sole priority.
The 23-year-old Isle of Man sprinter made cycling history when he became the first ever Briton to claim three stage wins in a single edition of the race.
But his immediate joy at beating Barry Hoban’s previous record of two stage wins in the same Tour in 1969 and 1973 was replaced by frustration when the news of the latest doping controversy overshadowed his achievement.
Riccardo Riccò became the third rider to be taken into police custody after being snared for EPO use, forcing his Saunier Duval Scott team to pull out just before the start of stage 12.
Spaniards Manuel Beltran and Moises Duenas have also been pulled out, although their respective Liquigas and Barloworld teams are still racing.
While organisers and most of the peloton have applauded the efficiency of the methods being employed by the French national anti-doping agency (AFLD), some riders have vented their anger.
Cavendish, who has only been professional for 18 months, had to hold back his emotions when asked why anyone should believe that he, and the rest of the field, are not using drugs.
“I think in any aspect of life you’re going to get people who think they are more clever than the system, whether it’s cycling or any other sport or even in business,” he said. “I’m in this sport because it’s one I love and feel passionate about. I put in a lot of hard work and want to get the best out of that hard work. I don’t want to tarnish the sport that I love.
“Cycling’s not just a job, it’s a passion,” the Mongoose added. “Maybe the people who resort to doping don’t have the passion that myself and a lot of other people have. It (cheating) is not just in cycling, it’s in every sport and every aspect of life.”
Riccò was snared by AFLD which came into the race declaring zero tolerance on the cheats and claiming it would base its detection methods on quality, and not quantity.
Cavendish, who is taking part in his second Tour de France but failed to finish last year, dominated a bunch sprint at the end of the 167.5km 12th stage ahead of Frenchman Sebastien Chavanel and Belgian Gert Steegmans.
Afterwards, he said doping controversies would not change his ambitions.
“I woke up this morning before I heard anything about it. I was going for the win today, and even after I’d heard about it it made no difference,” Cavendish said. “I’m here to win stages. Obviously it shows that the tests are working, people are getting caught and the sport is changing for the better, which is a good thing for me.
“I’ve only been professional for a year and a half now and I want to stay professional for many years. I want to love this sport that I’m professional in. I’d like the changes to carry on as they are.”
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008