THE 93rd edition of the world’s greatest cycle race suffered a serious body blow before this year’s competitors could even get started. In the absence of the now retired, Lance Armstrong, the event was billed as a duel between 1997 winner and five-time runner-up Jan Ulrich, and last year’s second, Ivan Basso.
In the event, neither competitor made it to the starting line. Both riders were barred from competing at the 11th hour as a result of the ‘Operacion Puerto’ doping investigation in Spain, leaving the sport’s reputation in tatters. Strong denials regarding any involvement in the scandal by the pair were undermined by the discovery of large quantities of anabolic steroids, packs of frozen blood and laboratory equipment by Spanish police at properties owned by team doctor, Eufemiano Fuentes. It is believed that up to 50 competitors are involved, raising the spectre of the 1998 Festina affair. The race has gone ahead none the less, and in the absence of the principals, Portugal’s José Azevedo (Discovery) and Floyd Landis (Phonak) can be given a chance, in addition to Russian powerhouse Alexandre Vinokourov. Britain’s David Millar, back after serving a two-year doping ban, is also in the field.