Tour de France Kicks Off Amid Scandals

Doping allegations plague annual cycling event, now under way.

February 11, 2009, 1:31 AM

July 8, 2007 — -- As the 94th Tour de France kicked off in London on Saturday, 189 riders pedaled away in search of the famed yellow leader's jersey.

But from a fan's perspective, something was missing.

Floyd Landis, the 2006 winner, is still fighting dope charges that stripped him of his champion title.

Jan Ullrich, the 1997 winner, and 2005 runner-up Ivan Basso were both kicked out of the race last year in a dope investigation that ultimately implicated more than 50 cyclists.

A serious lack of stars drew attention to the plague that has infiltrated the cycling world.

"It's known as a sport that has been literally overcome by doping," said ABC News sports consultant and USA Today columnist Christine Brennan.

Tour de France riders are tested for drugs before the race begins — all tested clean — and then again after every stage.

Despite the scrutiny, many riders have admitted to taking illegal drugs, and cycling officials are concerned that other drugs are used to mask performance-enhancing substances.

Brennan says cycling is especially prone to cheating because of the endurance it requires. The Tour de France will cover 2,120 miles, first on flat land in London and then up into the notoriously difficult stages of the French Alps.

The early leaders included Australian Robbie McEwen, who won the first stage of the event, Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, followed by German Andreas Kloeden and David Millar of the United Kingdom.

This was the first tour to launch from London, and with a Briton in the hunt, the fans were enthusiastic. Whether that will last as the race and drug tests continue, remains questionable.

"I'm stunned they're even running the thing after all the allegations and suspensions," Brennan said.

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