Dutch team TVM quits amid calls to clean up the sport

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The Independent Online
THE TOUR de France trundled on its troubled way yesterday without another team caught up in the allegations of drug abuse that almost brought the world's premier cycling race to a premature end.

TVM, a Dutch team whose unhappiness at having its hotel rooms searched by police was the catalyst for a protest go-slow by riders that brought the annulment of Wednesday's stage, pulled out of the 3,850km (2,390 miles) event yesterday morning.

That left only 14 of the original 21 teams to press on towards Paris and the traditional finish on the Champs-Elysees tomorrow.

Jean-Francois Pescheux, the Tour's sporting director, said the TVM team's riders had complained of being tired. The team reportedly headed home to the Netherlands, but the riders are due to report for questioning on Monday in Rheims, where the investigation into alleged drug taking by some riders on the Tour has its headquarters.

After the raid on their hotel, the team's riders were taken to hospital by police and given lengthy medical examinations, including blood, urine and hair tests to check for drug abuse. The team's masseur is still being held by police for questioning.

The team drew support from the Dutch government, which announced yesterday that it was setting up an inquiry into the French authorities' handling of the drugs scandal.

The Dutch sports minister, Erica Terpstra, who has made public her backing for the retired TVM team, wants to determine whether France's legal system has acted fully within its powers.

The Tour riders, many of whom see themselves as victims of the pressure to fulfil the expectations of sponsors, called on the governing body to act promptly to clean up the sport.

"We want a pure sport," said the riders' spokesman, Bjarne Riis. He said the job of the Union Cycliste Internationale was not just to make the rules and arrange the racing calendar. "Together with them we have to sort out this problem which has come out in the Tour," he added.

Two Spanish teams, Kelme and Vitalicio, dropped out of the race in protest on Thursday, joining two other Spanish teams and an Italian team, who had quit the Tour the day before.

A sixth team, Festina, was thrown out on 17 July after police found illegal substances in a team masseur's car.