Doping Scandal May Sink Tour, Again


MARSEILLE (AP) - The Tour de France can't avoid doping scandals - even when the rider isn't even in the race.

Cycling's premier event heads into the second half of the race Thursday with another cloud over the peloton following revelations that a preliminary test before the Tour detected high levels of testosterone in Germany's Patrik Sin­ke­witz - the disclosure coming only days after his T-Mobile teammate Linus Gerdemann led a rallying cry against doping.

Sinkewitz withdrew from the Tour Sunday after colliding with a spectator following the second of three Alpine stages, but Wednesday's news of his positive "A" sample from a pre-Tour training session has focused attention away from the race.

"For German cycling it's not so positive," said Gerdemann, who after winning Saturday's stage and taking the leader's yellow jersey for a day, railed against cheating.

"It shows that the controls are getting better and better," he said. "I always said we need more controls and more tests. I think the possibility to dope is getting smaller and smaller."

It went almost unnoticed that Cedric Vasseur became the first French rider to claim a stage this year, winning the final sprint of Wednesday's 229.5-kilometer trek under a searing sun. It was his first stage win since 1997.

The standings remain little changed. Denmark's Michael Ras­mussen leads by 2 minutes, 35 seconds over Alejandro Valverde in second, and 2 minutes, 39 seconds ahead of Iban Mayo with another flat stage Thursday, a medium mountain stage Friday, and a time trial Saturday. Germany's Andreas Kloeden is a favorite for the time trial, but his countrymen will not see it.

Two German television companies - TV stations ZDF and ARD - abruptly ended their race coverage Wednesday "until further notice."

T-Mobile and Gerdemann were the most embarrassed, trying to answer questions for a team member who was in Hamburg, recovering from a broken nose and other facial injuries in Sunday's crash and reportedly was to have surgery on his jaw.

"If it's true, I cannot understand that," Gerdemann said. "It's not only that I'm angry, it's about hundreds of jobs."

The mention of jobs echoed fears that the telecommunications giant T-Mobile may pull its sponsorship.

On the eve of last year's Tour, 1997 winner Jan Ullrich of T-Mobile was kicked out after being implicated in a Spanish doping investigation called Operation Puerto. His DNA was later matched to one of the bags of blood in the probe.

Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag - who were with Ullrich when the team was known as Team Telekom - recently admitted they used EPO during the 1990s when on Ullrich's team. T-Mobile sporting manager Bob Stapleton tried to sound upbeat as he patiently answered reporters questions.

"I believe the people in T-Mobile believe in the fight, they believe in what we're doing and they'll want to stay and fight it out," Stapleton said.

Stapleton heard of Sinkewitz's positive test in the parking lot shortly before the stage started at noon, and by early evening a large scrum of reporters jostled for places outside the T-Mobile bus.

"The entire team was stunned," Stapleton said. "It was quite a shock to everybody."

Gerdemann turned his anger at ZDF and ARD and questioned their motives.

"It is a terrible thing. I cannot understand it ... that the system starts to work and they say ‘bye-bye'," Gerdemann said. "Do they think it's better that there are no controls and then there is no positive rider?"

Veteran German rider Jens Voigt quickly became angry when asked for his reaction.

"You were so aggressive to ask this question," Voigt said. "What do you think? What does everybody else think? It's really not what we need."

Certainly the Amaury Sports Organization, which owns the Tour, doesn't.

Patrice Clerc, ASO's president, called it "paradoxical" that the German broadcasters halted their coverage at a time when breakthroughs are being made.

Sinkewitz, who is 26, sounded surprised when informed of his positive test.

"It's not possible. I know nothing about it," Sinkewitz told the German news agency DPA. "I am about to have surgery. I can't deal with it now."

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