Tour De France Racers Want To Leave Shadow Of Doping Behind

The Tour de France reaches its conclusion on Sunday. This year, angry competitors said they were sick of riding under the cloud of dopers from the 1990s and 2000s. The current race appears to be dope-free, but one can't be sure about that yet.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

After three weeks and more than 2,000 miles, the Tour de France finishes up on Sunday in Paris. The race is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It's also the first year in many that no former winners are suspected of doping. Seven-time tour winner Lance Armstrong finally admitted to doping this past spring, ending a years-long saga.

But even after all that, doping is probably not fini - as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Tour de France began on a sour note this year. On the eve of the first stage, Lance Armstrong gave his first interview with the French press since coming clean with Oprah Winfrey. He told Le Monde that it was impossible to win the Tour without doping. But a new generation of riders say they're tired of living under the cloud of dopers from another era.

Pierre Callewart is editor in chief of French sports newspaper l'Equipe. I ask him: Is it possible after years of investigations, sordid revelations and title strippings, that riders would still risk doping?

PIERRE CALLEWART: Yes, of course.

BEARDSLEY: Callewart says the days of blood transfusions and EPO are over, but there are new products most likely being used that testers don't even know about. But Callewart admits the Armstrong revelations opened a new era of skepticism.

CALLEWART: Skepticism and the fact of asking questions is always good. Because when you ask questions, you're supposed to have answers. And so that's good.

BEARDSLEY: But this year there's a fresh new riding sensation, and French sportscasters can't get his name off their lips.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Christopher Froome...

BEARDSLEY: Christopher Froome, the 28-year-old British Sky team cyclist who is now more than five minutes ahead of his second place rival, Alberto Contador. The Spaniard won the Tour in 2007 and '09 but had his 2011 title taken away for doping. Froome had his breakout moment in Sunday's 14th stage on Mont Ventoux. He attacked Contador, who until that moment was considered the king of the mountains.

Alistair Fotheringham covers the Tour for British newspaper The Independent.

ALISTAIR FOTHERINGHAM: The way he attacked so far out from the finish, and sitting on the bike rather than standing, so clearly (unintelligible), you know, extra energy left - reserve energy left if need be, all of that suggested that he was really, really, you know, at least one or two levels above the rest of the field in terms of dominating the entire race.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BEARDSLEY: That day Froome stood on the podium and took all the prizes - stage winner, best climber and the leader's yellow jersey. Even though a Frenchman hasn't won since 1985, the triumph of an Englishman - and on Bastille Day, no less - might have been hard to take if Froome didn't relate so well to the natives.

CHRISTOPHER FROOME: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: He waxes on in the lingua franca with the local sportscasters, lightening the burden of all that British glory in the French heartland. But his cycling brilliance is also raising eyebrows. Some say Froome is too good, his spectacular breakaways reminiscent of the Armstrong days. Froome denies any drug use.

FROOME: I'm also one of those people who've been let down. I've also believed in people who've turned out to be cheats and liars. But I can assure you I'm not.

BEARDSLEY: Callewart says Froome was tested three times on the Mont Ventoux stage, including two blood tests. He says only time will tell if this year's Tour riders are different than the previous generation.

CALLEWART: Wanting to know the truth is always good. But maybe he's clean, so you have to give him a chance. That's the law. That's the rules.

BEARDSLEY: With just two more competitive stages to go, barring a crash or unforeseen event, Christopher Froome will likely be standing on the top step of the podium Sunday on the Champs Elysees.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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