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Tour De France - just about everyone is disqualified for doping


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Wow. Just wow.


STRASBOURG, France -- That archaic French form of punishment, the guillotine, was revived Friday at the world's most famous bicycle race. The top of the Tour de France field was summarily lopped off after names were finally named in official documents that made their way across the border from a Spanish doping investigation.

Ivan Basso is gone, leaving his CSC team, which includes three U.S. riders, leaderless. Germany's Jan Ullrich is out, his quixotic quest to repeat his precocious 1997 Tour victory likely over for good now. Spain's Francisco Mancebo received the news of his suspension by saying he'd quit the sport.

Alexander Vinokourov, the Kazakh rider who has livened things up the past few years with his attacking style, wasn't even implicated in the scandal but lost his ride after five of his Astana-Wurth teammates were named.

Basso, Ullrich, Mancebo and Vinokourov finished second, third, fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Lance Armstrong last year. All of them will leave their own sad trails behind in this race, but Ullrich and Basso's absences will be felt the most.

You think Armstrong's departure is affecting cycling interest in the United States? Just watch the drop-off in Germany now, where no one cared about the sport before Ullrich, the red-haired, ruddy faced kid from Rostock in the former East Germany, emerged a decade ago. Some German popularity polls put him right up there with Michael Schumacher, the revered Formula One driver.

I can attest to the buzz Ullrich generated, just having spent three weeks in Germany covering the World Cup. In every train station newsstand all over the country, racks and racks of magazine covers displayed one image: "Ulli," clad in the distinctive hot pink of his T-Mobile team. For one month each summer, at least, he got more face time than most supermodels.

People grumbled about his underachieving ways -- he finished second five times, and third once -- but they also loved him. He was human. He gained weight in the offseason and occasionally partied too hearty. Don't we all. Good thing there's that little soccer tournament going on to distract sports fans in his homeland.

Basso was Italy's brightest Tour hope since the controversial and flamboyant 1998 winner Marco Pantani, who later died of an apparent accidental drug overdose, his career ruined by doping charges. Italy is not about to fall out of love with cycling, but Basso was a particularly endearing character who fulfilled a bedside promise to his dying mother by winning the Tour of Italy last month.

Pulling these guys off the start line poses a few problems for those of us raised on innocent-until-proven-guilty. Barry Bonds wouldn't be playing baseball right now if these standards were applied in the United States. Either cycling is contorting itself to prove it's doing everything it can to rid the sport of cheats, or there's specific, damning detail in those Spanish files that no one's talking about yet.

Trying to sort out who was a suspect and whose name was being thrown up on the Internet like pasta on a wall has been pretty frustrating for the reporters bunkered in at the Tour press center just outside downtown Strasbourg.

A rider's mug shot would go up on a Web site, then come down. There's still no evidence aside from what's been in the Spanish media, no indictments, no charges, but many European outlets have rushed to print lists of the condemned, seemingly not abashed by the fact that the numbers and names change hourly....

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That was a really confusing article to read, but from what I understand these are the facts:

(1) Nobody has tested positive.

(2) The big names have been disqualified because they are "under investigation."

There seems to be some big report out that throws out a lot of accusations, but as far as I can tell nobody has actually been caught doping yet.

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The investigation obviously didnt just start: IF Lances name was on it, it would be known...

I'd agree. I think it's a safe bet that if Lance was implicated, it would have (pardon my French) "leaked".

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Okay, I am not trying to bash France here (okay, maybe I am :D ) but they have been trying to accuse anyone who rides in the TDF that is NOT from France to be on roids for years, especially Lance, since he is from the US, and the French HATE that an American has won their little race 7 times in a row.

No one has been proven to be on roids, but yet they banned them anyway.

They want to weed out all the competition so their inferior riders will have a chance at winning their race. :doh:

GOD, I hate the French.

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Okay, I am not trying to bash France here (okay, maybe I am :D ) but they have been trying to accuse anyone who rides in the TDF that is NOT from France to be on roids for years, especially Lance, since he is from the US, and the French HATE that an American has won their little race 7 times in a row.

No one has been proven to be on roids, but yet they banned them anyway.

They want to weed out all the competition so their inferior riders will have a chance at winning their race. :doh:

GOD, I hate the French.

To be fair, they never did formally accuse Armstrong of cheating. If anything, they gave LA more benefit of the doubt than they're giving these guys.

It appears that there's no direct evidence of who cheated, but supposedly they're beginning to crack the codes of who's records and samples were found at the doping operation. If they've got the actual blood they can trace it to the racers, but of course that's not actual proof those racers truly were doping. I imagine there's enough testing going on that you might be able to get your hands on a test sample and present it as part of a doping scheme.

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Bruyneel, Discovery reveling in new Tour freedom


By Bonnie DeSimone

Special to ESPN.com

Faced with the cycling equivalent of losing Michael Jordan, you'd think Discovery Channel team director Johan Bruyneel would be clinically, or at least competitively, depressed.

Instead, the wily Belgian sounded jazzed up on the eve of the Tour de France.

"The less people talk about us, the better," Bruyneel told reporters on a conference call last week. "It's not our role to control the race this year. It's our role to disturb the race from Day One.

Discovery director Johan Bruyneel said he has many attacking options at this year's Tour de France.

"We are in the same situation now as all the other teams were when we had Lance ... We're going to try to be as strong as possible in the last week, and hopefully we're going to be able to pull it off, being underdogs at the start and winners at the end."

Bruyneel and the team that has won the Tour seven straight times will be without one Lance Armstrong, but they're also liberated from the rigid game plan they've followed and the baking spotlight that has followed them since Armstrong pulled off his shock victory in 1999, less than three years removed from his cancer diagnosis.

The frantic, yellow-braceleted mobs around the Discovery bus at the race starts and finishes should thin out. Gone will be the bodyguards at the team hotel and the TV crews sifting through team trash.

Discovery's all-for-one approach has been junked, too, in favor of a multipronged attack. Although none of the team's Tour riders has Armstrong's invincible balance of climbing and time trialing ability, four or five are capable of placing high in the overall standings. Bruyneel won't rank one of his riders above another, but it's clear Armstrong's loyal friend and selfless sidekick George Hincapie is front and center.

The team's depth gives Bruyneel the freedom to improvise daily. He could send someone up the road in a breakaway, forcing other teams to decide whether to expend energy chasing them.

A fluke stage win, a little luck, tired legs on other teams, and a decent performance in one or both individual time trials could add up to something, although Bruyneel is far too canny to say what.

"I have a dream scenario in my head," he said. "I prefer not to reveal it. We are in the same situation now as all the other teams were when we had Lance. I'm going to be open for everything. Whenever an opportunity gets there in front of us, we're definitely going to take it. Before, we had opportunities but couldn't take them because we had one goal and one obsession."

Hincapie, the 33-year-old Queens, N.Y.-born son of a former Colombian amateur racer, gradually has transformed himself from a one-day race specialist to an all-around rider and finished 14th in his 10th Tour last year.

He's not nearly as explosive a climber as Armstrong but can hold his own with his grinding style, as he proved last year when he stayed on Phonak rider Oscar Pereiro's wheel after an early breakaway in the Pyrenees and sprinted around him in the last few yards to win on the hardest day of the Tour. Hincapie also has been refining his time trial technique.

What once seemed unthinkable is now possible to gangly, affable Hincapie, who is on everyone's list of Tour contenders thanks to his own ability and the winning tradition of his team.

"Of course I dream of it and I think it's possible, or I wouldn't have been working and training as hard as I have been," Hincapie said. "I've never been in this situation, so I don't know how I'm going to respond when I'm climbing in the big mountains."

Once Lance Armstrong's shadow, George Hincapie could emerge as a winner for Discovery Channel.

Ten weeks ago, Hincapie's chances of making the starting line didn't look so good. His most recent attempt to achieving a lifelong goal -- winning on the cobblestones of the venerated Paris-Roubaix race -- ended disastrously in April when the steerer tube on the fork of his bike snapped about 30 miles from the finish of the 160-mile race. Hincapie suffered a severely separated shoulder and torn ligaments in the ensuing crash.

"Paris-Roubaix was a bad day for me and the team, a day I want to forget," Hincapie said. "I was probably in the best position of my life to win the race. I try to look at the positives. My handlebars broke when I was going I don't know how fast, and I could have been hurt a lot worse."

Hincapie was able to avoid surgery and began training again a week later. Veteran Tour commentator Paul Sherwen was impressed with Hincapie's 10th-place finish at the Dauphiné Libéré, a traditional Tour tune-up, in early June.

"If he can get his head on straight about being a leader, he could create a big surprise," Sherwen said.

Bruyneel said he thinks Hincapie is actually in better racing shape than he was a year ago at this time.

"He had to work very hard to recover from this injury, but it also made him more focused on what's ahead of him," the director said. "He could have lost morale a little bit and showed up at the Dauphiné at 70 or 80 percent. But he showed up very strong, and for me, that's a very strong message."

As poetic as a Hincapie charge for the Tour title might be, Bruyneel is reserving the right to decide well into the race -- perhaps even after Stages 10 and 11 in the Pyrenees -- who on his team looks the strongest. That could include Ukrainian rider Yaroslav Popovych, two-time Tour of Italy winner Paolo Savoldelli or Jose Azevedo of Portugal.

Discovery might jell to support one rider at that point. Then again, Bruyneel might keep firing different guns on different days to win individual stages or aim at the team classification, awarded to the team with the lowest combined time.

"They can basically see who can follow the wheels through the first set of mountains," said Davis Phinney, the first U.S. rider to win a road stage at the Tour 20 years ago. "I think they would like George to be that guy. Popovych hasn't had anything exceptional [this season]. Savoldelli showed in the Giro that he doesn't have the quality to climb or time trial to the level of some of these other guys.

"It's something different, but Johan Bruyneel is a smart guy, and he'll take advantage of what they have to offer."

One person Bruyneel might confer with is Armstrong, his close friend and part owner of the team. Armstrong has said he might not attend this year's Tour because of other commitments and his contentious relationship with race organizers, who openly celebrated his absence at the announcement of the 2006 route.

"If I have a difficult choice to make, I'm not afraid to call him and ask his advice," Bruyneel said.

Discovery's supporting cast comprises seasoned pros Bruyneel said can "ride together and think strategically on the road." No one embodies that more than almost impossibly durable Viatcheslav Ekimov, who, at age 40, will be racing in his 15th Tour. The Russian, who is approaching Dutch legend Joop Zoetemelk's record of 16, missed last year's Tour after crashing during a training ride with Armstrong in Texas.

Rounding out the roster are flatlands worker bee Pavel Padrnos of the Czech Republic; a new Basque team member, Egoi Martinez, whom Bruyneel described as "an aggressive climber"; Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera of Spain, a key Armstrong aide in past years; and maturing Spanish rider Benjamin Noval.

Discovery's new tactics will require considerable physical and psychological agility from riders used to lining up single file in the famous Blue Train to help Armstrong steam to victory, said former U.S. Postal Service rider Jonathan Vaughters.

"It will be an open race, an interesting race," Bruyneel said. "I feel good about this because if [you] see all those contenders, I think we have four of them. No other team has that luxury."

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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Tour de France starts with Americans 2nd, 3rd


Associated Press

STRASBOURG, France -- Norway's Thor Hushovd began the post-Lance Armstrong era of the Tour de France by winning the prologue Saturday, a day after two of cycling's best riders were swept away in a doping scandal that has shaken the sport.

Hushovd becomes the first rider to wear the leader's yellow jersey in a race thrown wide open by the investigation in Spain. He narrowly beat George Hincapie, an American who once rode with Armstrong. Another American, David Zabriskie, was third over the 4.4-mile time-trial course through this eastern French city.

Hincapie is one of the new favorites to succeed Armstrong, the seven-time Tour champion, after Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich were barred from the race Friday for suspected doping.

The prologue favors fast, explosive and powerful riders rather than lithe mountain specialists. Hushovd is not a contender for the overall title because he tends to struggle in the mountains that come later in the three-week race. But he is looking to win sprint stages in the first week and keep the green jersey he won last year as the Tour's best sprinter.

He finished a split second faster than Hincapie. Officially, they were given the same time of 8 minutes, 17 seconds. Zabriskie, winner of last year's first time trial, was four seconds back.

"I've been really confident the last few weeks, the last month, because I knew my form was there," Hushovd said.

Several other favorites did well, including Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who finished fifth, and American Floyd Landis, another former Armstrong teammate who placed ninth, nine seconds behind Hushovd.

Hushovd welcomed the expulsions that left the race without some of its headline names. Basso was runner-up to Armstrong in last year and won this year's Tour of Italy. Ullrich won the 1997 Tour and was third in 2005. Francisco Mancebo, who was fourth last year, also was excluded Friday.

"All that is just sad for cycling, but it is good that they are cleaning up," Hushovd said. "I hope the public will support us as they always have at the Tour de France."

Basso said on Italian television that he is "not well" because he had not been formally notified of any investigation.

"But inside I am serene," he said. "And that is the most important thing."

In all, nine suspected racers were withdrawn Friday by their teams. That forced out Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan because his team was left with too few riders to make the start. Vinokourov was fifth last year.

Fans, riders and team officials remained abuzz Saturday over the chaotic developments, with much speculation about which cyclists would fill the void left by Basso and Ullrich and by Armstrong's retirement last year.

French riders were among the most pleased at the expulsions. They have long voiced suspicions that their weakness in recent Tours may have been because riders from other countries face less stringent doping controls.

"For us, it's really great news," said Carlos Da Cruz, of the Francaise des Jeux team. "They shouldn't be just removed from the race, they should be removed from the sport and their licenses torn up."

Spanish authorities Thursday provided Tour organizers with the summary of a police investigation into a ring that is thought to have provided riders and other athletes with banned drugs, performance-enhancing blood transfusions and doping expertise.

Tour organizers used that information to pressure teams to pull out implicated riders. Ullrich, Basso and others are suspected of having had contacts with a doctor at the heart of the alleged doping network, Eufemiano Fuentes. He was arrested in May along with four other people. Both riders denied links to Fuentes.

But a spokesman for Ullrich's T-Mobile team, Christian Frommert, said Saturday that the Spanish dossier showed that Rudy Pevenage, Ullrich's longtime adviser, had sent messages and made phone calls to Fuentes.

Ullrich's teammate Oscar Sevilla, who was ousted, also made phone calls to Fuentes. Pevenage appeared to have cryptically referred to Ullrich in communications with the doctor, but the German rider had not appeared to call Fuentes himself. Pevenage also has been excluded by T-Mobile.

The Spanish report linked Ullrich to substances including blood, growth hormones and testosterone patches, the French sports daily L'Equipe reported Saturday, citing parts of the dossier that was provided to Tour organizers. Basso, under the pseudonym "Birillo," was connected with blood samples, the report said.

As reports of the scandal emerged weeks ago, Ullrich, Sevilla and Pevenage had given T-Mobile signed statements saying that they had never had contacts with Fuentes.

Under the sport's ethical charter, riders may be barred from racing while they under investigation for doping, but they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Basso's CSC team said he insisted he was innocent. Teammate Jens Voigt said that had Spanish authorities gone public earlier with their findings, Basso might have been able to prepare a defense and been able to race.

"His whole year is ruined, and that is sad," he said.


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Casper wins first stage; Hincapie takes yellow jersey


ESPN.com news services

STRASBOURG, France -- Jimmy Casper of France won a sprint finish to take the first stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, while George Hincapie of the United States took the overall lead.

Norway's Thor Hushovd, winner of the opening prologue, sliced open his arm and bled profusely after being squeezed against the barriers that line the route in the final sprint. Hushovd may need stitches but is expected to continue, the Tour doctor said.

Hushovd had been the leader after capturing Saturday's time trial, but Hincapie picked up bonus time on a sprint section of Sunday's course. The veteran New Yorker will wear the yellow jersey for the first time Monday in the second stage of the three-week race.

Casper beat out Australia's Robbie McEwen and Germany's Erik Zabel in the finishing sprint into Strasbourg in eastern France.

"Yesterday I was very disappointed because I wanted this yellow jersey so badly," Hincapie said after the first stage.

"Today it's a dream coming true. When I saw the breakaway was caught, I knew I had a chance to grab seconds in the last intermediate sprint."

Hushovd caught his arm on an advertising board held over the barriers by a spectator. He crossed the line and immediately lay down with blood pouring from a gash to his right elbow. He was flown by helicopter to the Strasbourg hospital.

"We managed to stop the bleeding. It's a deep wound but not a serious one," said doctor Gerard Porte, head of the Tour medical team.

"It will require stitches and maybe a scan but I think he should be able to start the second stage [Monday.]"

Casper, riding for the Cofidis team, surged as he approached the line at the end of the 184.5-km loop course.

"It's the most beautiful day in my life," said Casper, whose victory gave him the green jersey.

"The door opened at the right time for me in this sprint. I hope I can repeat this feat."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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