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Contador Wins Tumultuous Tour de France

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Contador Wins Tumultuous Tour de France

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Contador Wins Tumultuous Tour de France

Contador Wins Tumultuous Tour de France

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12344589/12344590" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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At 24, Alberto Contador of Spain has become one of the youngest-ever winners of the Tour de France. But his victory was overshadowed by doping allegations that derailed many competitors.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Hey, the bike race actually got the headlines in France yesterday. After a week of doping scandals, the Tour de France ended with a sprint to the finish. Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador won the toughest race in cycling by all of 23 seconds. It's the second closest finish in the Tour's history.

But all that good news did not quite wipe out the bad, as we hear in this report from Anita Elash in Paris.

ANITA ELASH: Fans along the route of the Tour de France booed the cyclist and even showed up dressed as syringes. They were upset about three drug scandals. The most spectacular was on Wednesday when the leader Michael Rasmussen was asked to leave for allegedly lying about his whereabouts to avoid pre-race drug tests.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

ELASH: But fans near the finish line on the Champs-Elysees in Paris were in a much better mood yesterday.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

ELASH: They lined up for hours, waiting for the chance to greet the racers as they crossed the finish line.

Rob Diamond(ph) is an amateur cyclist who came from Brisbane, Australia. Like a lot of fans, he was in the mood to forgive.

Mr. ROB DIAMOND (Amateur Cyclist): We loved it. We've been following the tour for the whole month. So today is the spectacle, just being here. That's the main thing.

ELASH: The Tour de France is an incredibly difficult race. This year, competitors rode more the 2,100 miles in three weeks as the Tour wound through Britain, Spain and France, and over grueling climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees. So long time fan Detelo Michelle(ph) said he wasn't surprise the riders used performance-enhancing drugs.

Mr. DETELO MICHEL: (Foreign language spoken)

ELASH: I think all the riders are doped up, more or less, he said. They have to be to do what they do, because they're men not machines.

Over the last decade, doping scandals have become a regular part of the Tour de France. When Rasmussen was dismissed last week, Tour organizers promised to put an end to drug use once and for all. And many amateur and professional cyclists insisted that despite its difficulty a drug-free race is possible.

Alan Darlenes(ph) is a spokesman for the French cycling association.

Mr. ALAN DARLENES: When you see a cyclists in the cities who are bike messengers, they do at least 100 kilometers per day, each day, five or six days a week. And they don't need any drug for that.

ELASH: But many observers said that even if Tour organizers follow through on their promise to get tough on doping, they'll have a hard time convincing riders they'd be better off drug-free.

Giom Raivier(ph), the editor in chief of the weekend newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche says that for many young riders doping is normal.

Mr. GIOM RAIVIER (Editor in Chief, Le Journal du Dimanche): (Through translator) There's an entire generation of riders who became professionals in the culture of doping, and it's not possible to get rid of this culture. So we'll have to wait until this generation gets old and a new generation takes its place before the Tour de France is really clean.

Unidentified Man: (French spoken).

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

ELASH: But in spite of the scandal, fans keep watching. Television audiences this year were at a four-year high. This man, who came to the Champs-Elysees from the south of France, says that's because the Tour is simply magic.

Unidentified Man #2: (French spoken)

ELASH: We love the bicycle here, he says. It's a tradition that is more than a hundred years old, and we love to come out and watch even if they're taking drugs.

For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash in Paris.

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