Doping Clouds Tour de France Coverage

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Tour de France yellow jersey leader Michael Rasmussen will be dropped from the Danish team for not informing Danish anti-doping authorities of his training whereabouts. A German rider's positive drug test prompted two German TV networks to halt coverage of the tour.


This year's Tour de France has been riding under a cloud of drug suspicion. Danish sporting authorities yesterday announced that yellow jersey leader Michael Rasmussen will be dropped from competing on the national Danish team. That's after several warnings that he had failed to inform his country's anti-doping authorities of his training whereabouts. And a German writer's positive test earlier this week prompted his country's networks to pull the plug on their tour coverage.

Eleanor Beardsley reports.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: On Wednesday, the sample A blood test of German T-Mobile rider Patrick Sinkewitz came back with six times the legal level of testosterone. Almost immediately, German public broadcasters ZDF and ARD interrupted their live coverage of the Tour until further notice. Despite the fact that one million Germans were watching, ZDF editor-in-chief Nikolaus Brender was unapologetic.

Mr. NIKOLAUS BRENDER (Editor-in-Chief, ZDF): (Through translator) Doping is becoming an integral part of cycling, and we want to change this. By stopping our coverage, we are taking a first step in doing so. What we did was a shock for everyone involved, but we are trying to take a stance to say that we can no longer, in good conscience, participate in the sport if it is not cleaned up.

BEARDSLEY: ARD and ZDF said they would not resume coverage until the Sinkewitz case was clarified. Sinkewitz, who was in the hospital after falling from his bike last week, denied any wrongdoing. Though the German State networks had warned German teams they would drop the event in the case of another positive test, they were criticized by the Tour's organizers in France. Patrice Clerc is head of the Tour de France's parent company, Amaury Sports Organization.

Mr. PATRICE CLERC (Director, Amaury Sports Organization): (Through translator) It seems a bit paradoxical to ask organizers to do everything to clean up the sport and then, when they prove that they're doing just that, the broadcasters abandon us.

BEARDSLEY: Drug use has been part of the Tour de France since the race began in 1903. Early riders consumed alcohol and ether as a means of dulling the pain. The more recent use of substances to increase performance rather than dull the senses led race organizers and the International Cycling Union to improve tests and conduct them more frequently. Last year, American Floyd Landis became the first Tour winner to fail a drug test. He is now fighting to keep his title before a U.S. arbitration panel. In May, Dane Bjarne Riis, who won the Tour 11 years ago, admitted that doping had been part of his everyday life.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

BEARDSLEY: Despite increasing doubts over doping, for many, the Tour de France is still a great sporting event and summer pastime. Patrick Borell(ph) is watching the 11th stage in a Paris bar.

Mr. PATRICK BORELL: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The Tour hasn't changed, he says. You've just got to get rid of the cheaters. Plenty of riders are clean and doing their best.

Next to him, Australian Bret McGraw(ph), who has been touring France on vacation, says he believes the doping will only get worse.

Mr. BRET MCGRAW: We drove up one of the hills on our little trip around France, and even if you're on drugs to get up it, it is steep. So I can see the temptation of the cyclists and why they do it.

BEARDSLEY: Danish rider Michael Rasmussen says the decision of his national team to bar him will not affect his participation in the Tour de France with his team Rabobank. As for the Tour's German viewers, they weren't deprived for long. The race was quickly snapped up by a private network whose director said he was delighted to get one of the world's greatest sporting events on such short notice.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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