Tour Start Shadowed by Doping Allegations

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As the world anxiously awaits tomorrow’s Tour de France start, 21 cycling teams are undergoing routine physical examinations and making last-minute race preparations. Several Tour heavyweights, including Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, and Tyler Hamilton, have also appeared at pre-Tour press conferences in Belgium.

At one such July 1 conference, five-time champion Lance Armstrong spoke about his condition heading into the race, and his quest to be the first to win six consecutive Tours de France.

“I feel strong, I feel healthy; probably stronger than last year,” Armstrong told reporters.

“I’ve had a high-quality three weeks,” Armstrong continued, referring to the period since his fourth-place finish in last month’s ten-day Dauphiné Libéré race. “There was some work to do. I feel ready.”

Armstrong also fielded questions about the new French book, L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong, which suggests he may have used performance-enhancing drugs in previous races.

“Extraordinary accusations need extraordinary proof,” Armstrong said. “They haven’t come up with any extraordinary proof.”

Armstrong lost a July 2 appeal against a ruling denying him the right to insert a refutation of the doping allegations into recently released copies of the book. Armstrong has never tested positive for banned substances, and has always strongly denied such allegations.

As doping concerns continue to cast a shadow over this year’s race, Tour organizers have ruled that any rider currently under police or judicial investigation for drug charges will be banned from racing. Five Italian cyclists and at least two French riders are included in that group.

For the past several days, twenty-eight-year-old Italian Danielo Di Luca, of the Saeco team, has been the center of a controversy over that ruling. While officials conduct an investigation of his alleged drug use, Di Luca is technically protected against loss of employment by Italian labor laws, according to Saeco manager Claudio Corti, who had hoped that the Italian laws would overrule the new Tour regulation. However, Di Luca was ordered today to refrain from participating in the race.

“It’s a bad day for cycling, and for sport,” a disappointed Corti told Reuters, regarding the decision to ban Di Luca from the Tour.

“I hope we can soon have a European law that harmonizes all the laws on doping,” Corti said.

Twenty-one international cycling teams will kick off the Tour Saturday, July 3, during the prologue stage, which begins in the Belgian industrial city of Liège.

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