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Another sporting event I'm a big fan of is Le Tour. I don't really follow much cycling, but every year this happens I follow it. I know a few of the names, but this year none of them will be in. Why? A huge doping scandal.


Contenders Ullrich, Basso barred from Tour de France

ESPN.com news services

STRASBOURG, France -- The Tour de France was stripped of three of its biggest names on Friday after Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and Francisco Mancebo were named in a doping investigation in Spain.

The decision to prevent those cyclists and others from racing threw the sport's premier race into upheaval the day before it begins.

Basso finished second in last year's Tour behind American Lance Armstrong, now retired. Ullrich was third and Mancebo fourth.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme said the organizers' determination to fight doping was "total."

"The enemy is not cycling, the enemy is doping," he said.

Riders being excluded will not be replaced, meaning a smaller field than the 189 racers originally expected.

It's the biggest doping crisis to the hit the sport since the Festina scandal in 1998 nearly derailed the Tour. The Festina team was ejected from the race after customs officers found a large stash of banned drugs in a team car.

Basso, winner of the Giro d'Italia, and Ullrich -- the 1997 Tour winner and a five-time runner-up -- were among more than 50 cyclists said to have been implicated in a Spanish doping probe that has rocked the sport for weeks.

Basso, Mancebo and Ullrich's teams said Friday that because their names had come up in the probe they were being withdrawn from the Tour. Ullrich's T-Mobile squad said it also suspended rider Oscar Sevilla and sporting director Rudi Pevenage because of their involvement.

Basso was returning to Italy, his team said.

Tour officials did not immediately say how many other riders were barred from the race.

The Spanish doping scandal erupted in May when police carried out arrests and raids, seizing drugs and frozen blood thought to have been prepared for banned, performance-enhancing transfusions.

Since then, the names of riders said to have had contacts with Eufemiano Fuentes, a doctor among those arrested, have leaked in Spanish media. Ullrich was among those named.

Then, after more leaks Thursday, Spanish authorities released details from the probe to Tour organizers and other cycling bodies, showing which riders were implicated in the investigation. It was on the basis of that official information that Tour teams decided to act.

T-Mobile received information implicating Ullrich, Sevilla and Pevenage from Tour organizers, including documents from the Spanish government, team spokesman Luuc Eisenga said.

"The only thing I can tell you is that the information is clear enough and didn't leave any doubt," he said.

Another T-Mobile spokesman, Stefan Wagner, told Germany's n-tv television that the team was acting on information indicating "that there was contact between the two riders and Rudi Pevenage and the Spanish doctor ... who is at the center of this doping story."

Asked whether T-Mobile would consider cutting ties with Ullrich completely, he replied "certainly ... we are now demanding evidence of his innocence."

"If this evidence can be provided, then we have a completely new situation," he said. "If it cannot be provided, nothing will change about this situation."

The extent of Basso's implication was not immediately clear. But his team said the suspicion hanging over him would have made his participation in the Tour difficult.

"It would be big chaos if those riders remain in the race," said the manager of Basso's team, Bjarne Riis. "We have to protect cycling."

Two Spanish cycling teams -- Astana-Wurth and Comunidad Valenciana -- have also been implicated. Comunidad Valenciana had its invitation to compete in the Tour rescinded, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Thursday that the Astana-Wurth team -- which includes favorite Alexandre Vinokourov -- could not be excluded from the race.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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  • 3 weeks later...

American Floyd Landis wins Tour de France!

By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer

July 23, 2006

Floyd Landis of the US, center, winner of the 93rd Tour de France cycling race, stands on the podium with second placed Oscar Pereiro Sio of Spain, left, and third placed Andreas Kloeden of Germany, in Paris,

PARIS (AP) -- The highs and lows of Floyd Landis' nail-biter of a bike race ended without a hitch Sunday as he won the Tour de France and kept cycling's most prestigious title in American hands for the eighth straight year.

The 30-year-old Landis, pedaling with an injured hip, cruised to victory on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees, a day after regaining the leader's yellow jersey and building an insurmountable lead in the final time trial.

"I kept fighting, never stopped believing," Landis said, shortly after he received the winner's yellow jersey on the podium, joined by his daughter, Ryan.

Landis picked up where another American left off last year, when Lance Armstrong completed his seventh and final Tour triumph. With the victory, Landis becomes the third American -- joining Armstrong and three-time winner Greg LeMond -- to win the Tour.

"I'm proud and happy for Floyd," said Armstrong, who watched the finish on TV from a luxurious hotel room near the Champs-Elysees. "He proved he was the strongest, everybody wrote him off."

"I'm very proud that an American has won again," he added.

As the "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, Landis, cap in hand, stared solemnly at the crowd. But when the anthem ended, he broke into a smile and waved to the fans.

Landis, who plans to undergo surgery this fall on an arthritic right hip injured in a 2003 crash, said he hoped he would be able to return next year.

"Right now, that's the plan," Landis said. He dedicated the win to Andy Rihs, owner of his Phonak team.

Sunday's champagne and Landis' fifth yellow jersey of the Tour were possible thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime ride Thursday in the Alps that put the Phonak team leader back in contention, one day after a disastrous ride dropped him from first to 11th, more than eight minutes back.

Oscar Pereiro of Spain finished second overall at 57 seconds back, and Germany's Andreas Kloeden was third, 1:29 behind Landis.

With Armstrong retired, the Tour was blown even more wide open on the eve of the July 1 start when prerace favorites Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, plus seven other riders, were sent home after they were implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.

Norway's Thor Hushovd won the final stage Sunday of the three-week race. He had also won the Tour prologue on July 1.

Assured of victory, Landis hoisted a champagne glass handed to him from his Phonak team car early in the 154.5-kilometer (96-mile) route from Sceaux-Antony to the capital.

2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis of the US holds the national flag as he rides down the Champs-Elysees avenue after the final stage of the 93rd Tour de France cycling race between Antony, south of Paris, and Paris, Sunday, July 23, 2006. Thor Hushovd of Norway won the stage.

A day earlier, Landis placed third in the Tour's last time trial, taking the yellow jersey from former teammate Pereiro and securing a 59-second lead over the Spaniard.

The deficit was virtually impossible to overcome for Pereiro in the flat, short final stage because Landis and his team eyed the Spaniard closely to make sure he didn't try to break away.

Landis, a former mountain biker who toiled for three years as a U.S. Postal Service team support rider for Armstrong, had sought to apply the Texan's meticulous strategy for winning -- until what Landis called "disaster" struck on Stage 16 in the Alps on Wednesday.

His plan to allow Pereiro to take the yellow jersey temporarily as the race left the Pyrenees at the end of week two appeared to backfire after Landis lost the jersey in a second Alpine stage at La Toussuire.

With a stunning stage win in the last Alpine stage on Thursday, Landis erased more than 7-1/2 minutes of his 8:08 deficit to Pereiro -- putting him in a prime position to win by outpacing the Spanish rider in the final time trial Saturday.

For the finish Sunday, Russia's Viatceslav Ekimov, 40, led the peloton -- or rider pack -- as it arrived for the first of eight laps on the famed Paris avenue to honor him as the Tour's oldest rider. It was his 15th Tour -- one shy of Dutch cyclist Joop Zoetemelk's record.

Australia's Robbie McEwen won the green jersey given to the best sprinter for a third time, and Denmark's Mickael Rasmussen earned the polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber for a second year. Italy's Damiano Cunego, 25, won the white jersey as the best young rider.


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