Doping problems threaten to sink Tour yet again


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 today with another cloud over the pack following revelations that a preliminary test before the Tour detected high levels of testosterone in Germany's Patrik Sinkewitz. The disclosure came only days after his T-Mobile teammate Linus Gerdemann led a rallying cry against doping.

Sinkewitz withdrew from the Tour on Sunday after colliding with a spectator following the second of three Alpine stages, but news Wednesday of a positive 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 142.6-mile trek under a searing sun. It was his first stage win since 1997.

Christophe Moreau, France's most likely contender for the yellow jersey, crashed along with AG2R Prevoyance teammate Simon Gerrans of Australia at the 19-mile mark. Moreau's uniform was in tatters over his left thigh, but he got "back up and into the pack.

"There's no panic. (He) just got scraped up on the shoulder and thigh," AG2R sporting director Vincent Lavenu told France-2 television about Moreau. "It's not serious for the rest of the Tour."

The standings remain little changed.

Denmark's Michael Rasmussen leads by 2 minutes, 35 seconds over Alejandro Valverde in second, and 2:39 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, and he'll be on TV back home once again.

After two German television companies &

TV stations ZDF and ARD &

abruptly ended their race coverage Wednesday "until further notice," German TV station Sat.1 announced Thursday it will broadcast the Tour.

The ProSiebenSat1 group, which started airing the race Thursday afternoon, said it had purchased the TV rights for the Tour after public broadcasters ARD and ZDF dropped coverage on Wednesday in one of Europe's largest markets.

"I'm very happy that we can show one of the world's biggest sports events on such short notice &

everyone connected to cycling deserves good coverage," Sat.1 boss Matthias Alberti said.

T-Mobile and Gerdemann were the most embarrassed by the doping news, 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.

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. "I don't this is the type of company or people that will tuck their tails and run."

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 next to his Team CSC bus. "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."

Given that the day was marked by doping suspicions, Vasseur's win was somewhat appropriate.

Vasseur was accused by a former Cofidis rider, Philippe Gaumont, of taking the performance enhancer EPO, or erythropoietin, during the 2003 Tour de France. Under investigation, Vasseur was banned from the 2004 Tour.


AP Sports Writer Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt contributed to this report.

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