Tour chief has high hopes of scandal-free race
Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme is convinced the 2008 race can take place without the numerous drug-tainted scandals.3 July 2008
BREST - Tour de France chief Christian Prudhomme is convinced this year's race can take place without the numerous drug-tainted scandals that have left the event fighting for its credibility.
The 95th edition of the world's biggest bike race begins here Saturday with Australia's Cadel Evans and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde as the favourites to capture the famous yellow jersey.
Ahead of a tough three-week race, devoid of the traditional prologue and with plenty of action promised in an innovative first week, there remain plenty of detractors following the 2007 edition which was blackened by the unceremonious exit of race leader Michael Rasmussen, among others, over suspicions of doping.
Even the reigning champion, Spaniard Alberto Contador, is absent because his Astana team were not invited due to doping controversies at 2007's race while the team was under different management.
Prudhomme believes there has now been a change of conscience within the peloton, but he was quick to underline that it is not the Tour organisers' job to police the peloton.
"For years the Tour de France has done what it could (in the fight against doping), and every year the possibilities are getting smaller," Prudhomme said in an interview with AFP.
"We have the capacities as a major race organiser, but we're not a regulator of the sport and we don't want to be.
"As well as the anti-doping rules and measures there is a real determination to fight doping. I believe that exists in the majority of teams and with the majority of riders.
"Without doubt, cycling's head was buried in the sand for a long time but I believe that is no longer the case."
Another innovation, this time unplanned, is that this year's race will be held under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), and not the international body (UCI).
Following years of feuding over the UCI Pro Tour, the company which owns the Tour de France, ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation), pulled out of the elite racing series along with several other major race organisers.
Relations between the UCI and ASO further deteriorated in 2007 when it emerged that Rasmussen was competing at the Tour despite the UCI being aware that he had missed several pre-race anti-doping controls.
This year, with the support of the French government, the race will be held as an FFC event with the anti-doping controls carried out by the French National Anti Doping Agency (AFLD), which in turn has the backing of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA).
Prudhomme said there was no question that anti-doping tests would be carried out to the letter.
"The AFLD is an independent agency and that is the way we want it to be.
"It respects the world anti-doping code and has the support of WADA. From our point of view, we only have to make sure they have all the material they need."
And he is convinced that this year's race can be a new starting point for the sport.
"I'm sure of it," he added. "Everything possible has been done to prevent a similar situation to last year when the second half of the race was totally ruined.
"The AFLD will do a professional job but I believe there has been a real change of attitude when it comes to the teams and the riders."
With reportedly less spectators watching the race, at home and on the side of the road, Prudhomme said he is sure the 5-27 July race can help invigorate the event's reputation.
"It's time for sport to take precedence, and for us to get back our credibility," he added.
"This year all the ingredients are there - suspense, drama, and an unpredictable race route. I'm counting on the first week of the Tour - which has no prologue and no time bonuses - to give us all of that."
[AFP / Expatica