Crikey wrote on Thursday that favourites Basso and Ullrich
would decide who wins this year’s Tour de France. How wrong we were. They
didn’t even make the starting line. Both have been drawn into the Madrid doping
investigation which promises to be the biggest doping scandal in cycling
history, possibly sporting history, and that includes Balco and Barry Bonds,
and Ben Johnson. The list of 200 names under investigation includes
footballers, track and field athletes, and boxers.

Media leaks allege Basso and Ullrich commissioned the services
of a Madrid doctor – Eufemiano Fuentes – who
engaged in blood transfusion, an effective method of doping which raises the
number of oxygen carrying red blood cells.

Journal du Dimanche
has reported five Real Madrid players, in addition to French Open tennis star
Rafael Nadal, are on Dr Fuente’s list of clients. Fuentes kept records going
back to at least 2003. This investigation has implicated 55 cyclists including
the podium finishers behind Armstrong – Basso and Ullrich – plus fourth place
holder Fransisco Mancebo. The majority of riders named are Spanish and this
scandal has the potential to decimate
the Spanish peloton.

If Ullrich is found guilty of doping it spells the end of
his career, as he is 32 now and the current ethical charter would bar him from
competing in the prestigious Protour for four years. He stands to lose his Tour de
Suisse victory in June.

Basso will not retain his Giro win in May if the allegations
are proved. The maximum penalty of two years plus a further two years ban from
the Protour would severely harm his career. He’s now aged 28 and the most
productive years for a cyclist are between 27 and 32. He would not be invited back
to the Tour de France while not in the Protour, although he would be invited to
the Giro d’Italia. He may be 32 before he could return to the Tour, and it
would be a formidable task to win. Basso was seen as
the heir to Armstrong and a potential multiple tour winner.

One of the cyclists not embroiled in the investigation is
Australian Robbie McEwen, who won stage two of the Tour de France overnight and
took the lead in the green jersey sprinters’ competition. He beat reigning
world champion Tom Boonen and new yellow jersey holder Thor Hushovd, who won
the prologue. Stuart O’Grady was eighth on the stage.

Peter Fray

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