U.S. Cyclists Steer Clear Of Scandal In Tour Debut

Three riders have already tested positive for doping in this year's Tour de France. While scandals continue to plague the race, two American cyclists are making their debut. They're also determined to avoid any hint of scandal.

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Once again, cyclists in the Tour de France are pumping up and down the French mountains, and once again the doping charges are piling up. So far, three riders have tested positive. Two young cyclists from Colorado have made their debut this year. They're determined to get to the finish line and steer clear of those drug scandals. Anita Elash reports from the tour.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ANITA ELASH: Stage 11 of the Tour de France, the second day in the Pyrenees Mountains, and this is the final climb of the day - seven miles up one of the toughest peaks so far.

(Soundbite of applause)

ELASH: Until today, Will Frischkorn, a newcomer to the Tour de France and a member of the U.S.-based Garmin-Chipotle team, had been having a stellar race. But now he's at the back of the pack struggling to make it to the summit. The team support car pulls up beside him and sports director Lionel Marie hands him quart after quart of electrolyte drink.

Mr. LIONEL MARIE (Sports Director): Good job, Will. Good job, man. It's a bad day for you today.

Mr. WILL FRISCHKORN (Cyclist, Tour de France): Yeah, my...

Mr. MARIE: We will see tomorrow.

Mr. FRISCHKORN: My throat is not happy today.

Mr. MARIE: Everybody has a bad day.

ELASH: Even if today is a bad day, Frischkorn and his team have already been more impressive on this tour than anyone expected. Garmin-Chipotle started out three years ago as a developmental team with a strong anti-doping policy. Its rigorous testing program, run by an independent agency, wanted an invitation to take part in the Tour de France. Now it's third in the team standings.

Three hours after the end of the stage, the Garmin-Chipotle team settled into a tiny hotel perched on a quiet hilltop near the village of Mazair(ph), about 30 miles from the finish line.

Will Frischkorn was treated for allergies and went to bed early. Danny Pate, the other American who's new to the tour, comes out to talk after getting his post-race massage and eating a high carbohydrate dinner. He had a bad day too.

Mr. DANNY PATE (Cyclist): I had a couple of rough days lately. I don't know. Just wasn't so flash lately. Mainly, probably because I'm not used to doing three-week races.

ELASH: So at times like this, doesn't he feel tempted to do what many others have done and get an artificial boost? Pate says the answer is no.

Mr. PATE: Last year I was being tested once a week. It's a crazy amount of testing, but I don't really care. I mean, I think it's also really good for our team image and helps our team get sponsored. So in the end it helps me make my salary.

ELASH: And it also seems to be winning the support of cycling fans who gather around the team's bus before each race hoping to get autographs or chat with the cyclists.

Skeptics like Paul Kimmage say the team has proven that professional cycling can be a clean sport. Kimmage competed in the Tour de France in the 1980s, then wrote a book that exposed doping. Now he's a journalist for the London Sunday Times.

Mr. PAUL KIMMAGE (London Sunday Times): If you'd come on this race five years ago, you wouldn't have been able to get within 100 feet of this team bus now. And there were all sorts of shenanigans going on inside these buses. But I think now with this team it's the transparency and it's the consistency between what they say and what they do that I find very encouraging.

ELASH: Frischkorn and Pate are hoping that today's relatively gentle stage across the rolling hills of southern France will help them recover their strength. The cyclists face their toughest challenge this weekend as the Tour heads into the Alps.

For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash in Mazair, southern France.

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