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New doping revelations keep cycling under cloud

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New doping revelations keep cycling under cloud
World Cycling Centre in Aigle, canton of Vaud, home to the UCI. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
12:41 CEST+02:00
The downfall of Lance Armstrong last year left deep scars on the Tour de France and a seven-year void on its honours board, just as organizers were gearing up to celebrate the historic 100th edition of cycling's greatest race.

Eight months on and the wounds have not yet healed, with fresh revelations emerging this week that French star Laurent Jalabert allegedly used erythropoetin (EPO) on the 1998 Tour.
   
Jalabert has not admitted using the banned blood booster, responding to the 
allegations in L'Equipe newspaper on Monday: "I can't say if it's false, I can't say if it's true."

But last weekend the 1997 race winner and three-time runner-up Jan Ullrich, of Germany, accepted for the first time that he doped.

Amid a steady flow of confessions from former riders, Armstrong remains the symbol of cycling's darkest days, when winning was not just a question of athletic ability but EPO injections, blood transfusions and testosterone pills.

The US rider, unmasked as a serial dope cheat by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), was subsequently stripped of his record Tour wins, as well as his
career rankings back to August 1998.

He now no longer figures in the pantheon of Tour de France greats.

Instead, his best finish in "La Grande Boucle" is a modest 36th place in 1995.

In contrast, Ullrich, sanctioned for doping violations in 2012, has kept his 1997 win and other podium finishes, with the exception of his third place in 2005.

The belated confessions from the peloton have done little to convince critics that cycling is not discredited, overshadowing efforts within the sport to move on from years of scandal and suspicion.

The sport's world governing body, the Swiss-based International Cycling Union (UCI), took steps to stamp out doping, notably with the introduction of biological passports in 2008.

EPO use, though, is far from being a thing of the past, as demonstrated by the former golden boy of Italian cycling, Danilo di Luca, who tested positive in the Giro d'Italia in May, and his compatriot Mauro Santambrogio.

The recent domination of Team Sky, reminiscent of Armstrong's US Postal Service outfit in the late 1990s and 2000s, has also set tongues wagging — and prompted vehement denials of wrong-doing from the British team.

But certainly the peloton has a more human face than in Armstrong's heyday, with riders such as 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins insistent that today's riders are different from their recent predecessors.

"We're the ones picking up the pieces and having to convince people that the sport is clean — and it's difficult to convince some people, it really is, because of a precedent that has been set," he said last October.

Tour favourite Chris Froome, runner-up behind Wiggins last year, has also maintained: "The sport has changed a lot in 10 years."

"Cycling in 2013 is not the same as during the Armstrong years," the director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, added.

Armstrong may have been unmasked but there is continuing disquiet about the UCI, headquartered in Aigle, in the canton of Vaud.

Hein Verbruggen, who headed the cycling union during the Texan's pomp, remains honorary president while Irishman Pat McQuaid, who succeeded the Dutchman in 2005, is hoping to secure a third term as president from September.

Both men have resisted calls to resign since the publication of the devastating USADA report on Armstrong last year, amid claims that the UCI turned a blind eye to his activities for years.

In response, McQuaid promised an "independent external commission" to look into the UCI's role in the scandal.

But the commission was effectively still-born, with both the USADA and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) critical of its limited remit, leading to it being disbanded almost immediately.

In an attempt to bring an end to the code of silence in cycling, proposals have been mooted for a South Africa-style "Truth and Reconciliation" commission.

Even Armstrong has said he would co-operate with such a body.

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