Cycling: Relief as scandal-free Tour takes tentative step forward

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The Independent Online

Strange but true: after 11 years in which doping affairs and the Tour de France have been synonymous, 2009 has seen the scandal-ometer drop surprisingly close to zero.

Last year the Tour faced five positive dope tests during the race, the last coming just as journalists were shutting down their laptops on the final evening, and another two later.

This year there have been just two brief moments where the fight against doping has hit the headlines, neither with long-term consequences.

The first came when a UCI doping inspector was accused of spending too long drinking coffee with the Astana team management rather than carrying out his tests. The claims have been refuted.

The second occurred when Alberto Contador was asked about some scientific theories that questioned his prodigious climbing ability. Contador refused to answer, point-blank, a reaction that had an unpleasant whiff of the traditional omerta in the peloton when asked about banned drugs.

The Spaniard was much more forthcoming in his final press conference, insisting that he had nothing to hide and was "delighted to carry out tests, as many as they want, because it shows the sport is moving forward in the battle against doping. Personally, I'm delighted with how it's all going. Everything we do to combat banned drugs is a plus and it looks like things are changing."

Contador's optimism about the sport may be misplaced – certainly it is far too early to see this absence of scandals as more than an encouraging sign. After all, the positive tests in 2008 for third-placed Bernard Kohl and the double stage winner Stefan Schumacher did not come through until months later. On top of that, the runner-up in the Tour of Italy, Danilo Di Luca, has recently returned a positive test for the banned blood booster EPO. But for now, it's safe to say the Tour has been the least troubled for 11 years and that is a big step forward.

Unclean machine: Tour's tough years

*1998 Festina affair sees a team ejected for organised doping in sport's biggest ever drugs scandal.

*1999 Lance Armstrong faces allegations, categorically denied, of corticoid use.

*2000 Three riders not allowed to start because of suspect blood values.

*2001 Spaniard Txema del Olmo tests positive for the blood-booster EPO.

*2002 Raimondas Rumsas, finishes third and on the same day his wife is arrested with a car bootload of drugs.

*2005 The same happens to Italian Dario Frigo's wife.

*2006 American Floyd Landis stripped of victory for using artificial testosterone.

*2007 Leader Michael Rasmussen kicked out for lying about his pre-Tour whereabouts. Two teams quit after riders test positive.

*2008 Seven riders fail dope tests, including third-placed Bernard Kohl.

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