Tour de France director calls for harsh penalties
AP Sports Writer
Vail CO, Colorado
PARIS ” Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme has called for more cyclists to speak out about doping.
“The law of silence is not totally broken, but the wall is crumbling,” Prudhomme said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There is an old culture of doping in cycling. What we need today is to break the system.”
Prudhomme also urged life bans for those who kept quiet but were later caught cheating.
Prudhomme has made a strong stance against doping in a sport whose reputation is under question. With the Tour de France just six weeks away, last year’s winner Floyd Landis was trying to save his title at a doping arbitration hearing in California.
On the eve of last year’s race, nine riders ” including 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich and 2005 runner-up Ivan Basso ” were excluded from the Tour after being implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.
Prudhomme said riders who admit doping or attempting to dope, such as Britain’s David Millar and Italy’s Basso, should get two-year bans.
But punishment should be heavier for silent cheats, Prudhomme said.
“It can’t be the same sanction for those who admit it and those who never admit it,” Prudhomme said. “For those who never admitted it and are then found out by tests … life (ban), over.”
Last year, Basso’s name turned up on a list of cyclists who allegedly had contact with a Spanish doctor, Eufemiano Fuentes, accused of running a blood-doping clinic in Madrid.
The vast Spanish investigation, called Operation Puerto, implicated more than 50 cyclists.
Basso quit his Discovery Channel team last month after the Italian Olympic Committee reopened an investigation.
Last month, German authorities matched Ullrich’s DNA sample to blood bags seized in Operation Puerto.
“If we don’t break the system, tomorrow there will be other Basso’s, other Ullrich’s,” Prudhomme said.
At a hearing earlier this month, Basso admitted that he was involved in the Spanish case and knew Fuentes. A day later he confessed to “attempted doping,” but maintained he never actually went through with it.
“When I read the confessions of Basso on Monday evening, I said to myself ‘finally,”‘ Prudhomme said. “I was less happy the next day … he took two steps forward and two steps back.”
Prudhomme said cyclists would find it harder to take illegal substances ahead of the tour’s July 7 start in London.
The International Cycling Union, or UCI, has ordered 160 random tests during May and June ” compared to 30 last year.
Prudhomme strongly criticized the way the UCI was formerly run, suggesting it deserved a “Golden Ostrich” award for allegedly ignoring the issue of doping.
“I think that for years the UCI wanted to build a system which was based on economic arguments,” Prudhomme said. “And that’s one of the reasons for the current crisis.”
Prudhomme said he still felt betrayed by Landis, who could be stripped of his title after testing positive for elevated testosterone to epitestosterone levels after winning the 17th stage of last year’s race.
“It was another betrayal, and a terrible one,” Prudhomme said.