"We want a pure sport," said the riders' spokesman, Bjarne Riis on the day that the TVM team quit the Tour with two days to go to the finale on the Champs-Elysees. "The UCI is not here just to write rules and arrange the racing calendar. Together with them we have to sort out this problem which has come out in the Tour."
After Magnus Backstedt became the first Swedish rider to win a Tour stage, Riis went before the media to deny a newspaper story that quoted him as calling Rodolfo Massi "a drugs dealer". Massi had led the Tour's Mountains Grand Prix before he was held for questioning by police investigating alleged drug abuse by Tour riders and was forced to drop out of the race.
"I never said that he was dealing. I am sorry for his team, and I hope that Massi will be freed soon," Riis said. "A lot of people think that my team, Deutsche Telekom, do not agree with what the justices are doing. Their work is necessary for cycling."
Riis, who won the 1996 Tour was challenged at the start in La Chaux-de- Fonds, Switzerland. The French manager of Massi's Casino team, Vincent Lavenu, asked him if it was true that he had accused the rider of trafficking in drugs. After an Italian rider, Alberto Elli, had also questioned him, Riis asked his team manager, Walter Godefroot, to arrange a media meeting.
"I had said that if Massi was guilty of bringing illegal drugs into the sport it was right that police should investigate," Riis said.
Massi was detained by police on Wednesday at Chambery, near the French- Italian border, along with Nico Terrados, the doctor with the Spanish team ONCE. Yesterday Massi faced the examining magistrate in Lille the centre of the inquiry into the case regarding the Festina team, which was thrown out of the Tour after drugs were found in a team car.
The remaining five riders of the TVM team did not start yesterday, and a team official, Guido van Calster, said that it was the riders' decision. "They are not mentally and physically capable of racing," he said, in a statement broadcast on Radio Tour, the race's link with its huge workforce and media.
Four TVM riders were subjected to medical tests on police instructions on Wednesday. TVM's manager, Cees Priem, and their team doctor, Alexandre Mikhailov, are being held on drugs related charges.
The first casualty outside the Tour was the prestigious Criterium de France, one of the first big-money appearance races for leading Tour riders. The sponsors called off the race, which was due to run at Chateau Chinon on Monday.
As the scandal rumbled on yesterday 13 riders made the 19th stage their showpiece. The Frenchman Jacky Durand, already a stage winner, raced off in the first kilometre, and after 70km he had 12 others to help him build a lead that had soared to 16min 38sec by the finish.
The Italian race leader, Marco Pantani, and his closest rivals were unperturbed. The Frenchman Thierry Bourguignon came nearest to posing a threat, and he was more than 57 minutes adrift of the yellow jersey position.
Pascal Derame, sporting purple-dyed hair, broke up the party 16km from Autun when his attack took four riders away to contest a sprint finish. As they sped through valleys of Burgundy vineyards and on to the breeding ground of the Charollais, the quartet opened a lead that was comfortable enough to allow them to finesse in the finishing straight.
Then the pure power of the Swede swept all before him as Backstedt edged out the Dutchman Maarten den Bakker, the Italian Eddy Mazzoleni, and the colourful Derame, of the US Postal Service team, to create a little piece of Swedish sporting history.
"I am just overwhelmed. I cannot believe that I have won," said Backstedt, who once used cycling to improve his fitness for downhill skiing, but realised that his cycling was better than his alpine skills.
There is very little downhill left in the Tour. Today Pantani faces the challenge of a 52km time-trial into Le Creusot. His 5min 52sec advantage over the American Bobby Julich and 5:56 over last year's winner, the German Jan Ullrich, may take a battering. Each respectively took 3:03 and 4:21 out of the Italian in a 58km time trial at the end of the first week, but racing over the Pyrenees and the Alps will have blunted the speed of Julich and Ullrich.
The International Olympic Committee, galvanised by the Tour de France drug scandals, have called a special executive committee meeting on 20 August 20 to discuss how best to deal with the problem of the use of illegal drugs in sport.
TOUR DE FRANCE 19th stage (150 miles, Neuchatel, Swit to Autun, Fr): 1 M Backstedt (Swe) GAN 5hr 10min 14sec; 2 M den Bakker (Neth) Rabobank; 3 E Mazzoleni (It) Saeco; 4 P Derame (Fr) US Postal, all same time; 5 F Guesdon (Fr) FDJ, at 25sec; 6 F Sacchi (It) Polti; 7 J Durand (Fr) Casino; 8 A Turicchia (It) Asics; 9 S O'Grady (Aus) GAN; 10 T Gouvenou (Fr) Big Mat; 11 F Andreu (US) US Postal; 12 C Agnolutto (Fr) Casino, all s-t; 13 T Bourguignon (Fr) Big Mat +28sec; 14 R McEwen (Aus) Rabobank +16:38; 15 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom; 16 S Zanini (It) Mapei; 17 P Chanteur (Fr) Casino; 18 F Simon (Fr) GAN; 19 N Jalabert (Fr) Cofidis; 20 A Tafi (It) Mapei, all s-t.
Overall: 1 M Pantani (It) Mercatone Uno 87hr 58min 43sec; 2 B Julich (US) Cofidis +5min 42sec; 3 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom 5:56; 4 C Rinero (Fr) Cofidis +8:01; 5 M Boogerd (Neth) Rabobank +8:05; 6 J-C Robin (Fr) US Postal +12:34; 7 R Meier (Swit) Cofidis 13:19; 8 Daniele Nardello (It) Mapei13:36; 9 Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom 14:45; 10 Giuseppe di Grande (It) Mapei +15:13; 11 A Merckx (Bel) Polti +16:15; 12 L Piepoli (It) Saeco +16:53; 13 S Heulot (Fr) FDJ +17:49; 14 D Baranowski (Pol) US Postal +19:22; 15 B Hamburger (Den) Casino +22:57; 16 K van de Wouwer (Bel) Lotto +23:51; 17 K Livingston (US) Cofidis +30:30; 18 P Farazijn (Bel) Lotto +30:47; 19 J Jaksche (Ger) Polti +32:43; 20 L Madouas (Fr) Lotto +34:48.