Officials were forced to swallow hard yesterday as they watched the Russian Sergei Ivanov – the same rider who had headed a race-endangering go-slow protest in Aix-les-Bains three years before – cross the line in the same city with his arms raised in triumph as the stage winner.
In 1998, just one of the many doping scandals occurred when Ivanov was interrogated by police along with his TVM team-mates in nearby Albertville about a drugs seizure in April. Considering the late-night questioning to be heavy-handed, the peloton stopped twice in protest on the next day's stage to Aix-les-Bains.
Ivanov and the rest of his squad were then allowed by the bunch to be first across the line as they slowly filed across, while the stage was cancelled and the Tour lurched dangerously close to following suit.
Having changed teams, Ivanov then made a brief return to the Tour last year when he was one of three riders thrown off hours before the start for having an excessively high hematocrit level.
In the wake of the 1998 raids, TVM's manager, Cees Priem, could face a two-year prison sentence for organised doping – the verdict is due today – while Ivanov's present squad, Fassa Bortolo, were immersed in another drugs scandal in the Giro d'Italia this year. His team-mate Dario Frigo, who was lying second overall at the time, admitted that doping products had been found by Italian police in his room, and was instantly sacked by the team.
Ivanov looked uncomfortable yesterday when asked about the last time he had crossed a finish line in Aix-les-Bains, finally saying, "Of course I remember. But this time I win alone."
For his return visit to the fashionable spa city, Ivanov had taken off from a group of three early breakaways with three miles to go. After a desperate last charge for the line, he finished 16 seconds ahead of the Basque David Etxebarría, with the bunch coming in a further eight seconds adrift.
The top end of the overall standings remained unchanged, although some 60 riders, including David Millar, lost contact with 25 miles to go. The Scot has an upset stomach, although he has lost his last place overall to the Belgian Bart Leysen by 10 seconds. He finished more than eight minutes behind Ivanov.
Millar's illness does not bode well for the Alps today, where the first challenge for the favourites will be to finish strongly on Alpe D'Huez, possibly cycling's most prestigious climb. However, a further two Hors Categorie mountain passes – so hard they are beyond the top end of the Tour's scale of difficulty – also form part of the 130-mile stage before the peloton reaches the Alpe's near-legendary 21 hairpin bends.
Lance Armstrong, the Tour winner in 1999 and 2000, has singled out the Glandon, the 12-mile climb that precedes the Alpe as being "exceptionally difficult. I have never ridden up it in a race situation, but I know from training how tough it is."
Armstrong also pointed out that "as the first mountain stage, and with a crucial uphill time-trial the day after, I think a lot of the contenders will be more cautious than usual."
Like a goodly number of his fellow Americans, Armstrong is a fervent believer in the power of first strike. Devastating attacks on the foot of the final climb of the first mountains stage have been key to both his Tour wins, so his own approach remains unknown.
One unexpected danger man for Armstrong today could be the little-known Kazakh Andrei Kivilev, Millar's Cofidis team-mate, who infiltrated his way into a 14-man break on Sunday which gained a massive 35 minutes on all the main favourites. Catapulted into fourth place overall, the climber is over 13 minutes ahead of the Texan, but for now he was keen to play down his chances.
"I always climb better in the Alps than in the Pyrenees, so for me in this year's route the worst comes last." he said. Armstrong, for one, will not be displeased to hear that.
Stuart O'Grady retained both his race leader's yellow jersey and the green jersey of points leader, but the Australian was not optimistic about today. "It's going to be hard," he said.
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly
NINTH STAGE (Pontarlier to Aix-les-Bains, 185km, 115 miles): 1 S Ivanov (Rus) Fassa Bortolo 3hr 57min 48sec; 2 D Etxebarria (Sp) Euskaltel +16sec; 3 D McGee (Aus) Française des Jeux +17; 4 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom +24; 5 D Nazon (Fr) Bonjour; 6 S O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole; 7 P Bettini (It) Mapei; 8 J E Gutierrez (Sp) Kelme; 9 A Petacchi (It) Fassa Bortolo; 10 S Teutenberg (Ger) Festina; 11 C Mengin (Fr) Française dJ; 12 R Belohvosciks (Lat) Lampre; 13 P Wadecki (Pol) Domo; 14 F Simon (Fr) Bonjour; 15 G Bouvard (Fr) Jean Delatour all same time. Selected: 32 L Armstrong (US) US Postal Service; 38 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom s/t; 150 D Millar (GB) Cofidis +8min 35sec.
Overall: 1 O'Grady 38hr 55min 30sec; 2 Simon +4min 32sec; 3 B de Groot (Neth) Rabobank +21:16; 4 A Kivilev (Kaz) Cofidis +22:07; 5 Teutenberg +27:15; 6 J Voigt (Ger) Crédit Agricole +29:23; 7 L Dierckxsens (Bel) Lampre +29:49; 8 M Wauters (Bel) Rabobank +30:12; 9 L Turpin (Fr) AG2r +30:35; 10 A Gonzalez (Sp) Kelme +31:56. Selected: 23 Armstrong +35:19; 26 Ullrich +35:46; 172 Millar +2:05:46. Points: 1 O'Grady 136; 2 Zabel 127; 3 Nazon 90. Mountains: 1 P Halgand (Fr) Delatour 66pts; 2 L Jalabert (Fr) CST 50; 3 L Brochard (Fr) Delatour 33. U-25: 1 J Jaksche (Ger) ONCE 39:30:08; 2 Gutierrez +8sec; 3 O Sevilla (Sp) Kelme +1:27.Reuse content