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Doping experts laud cleaner Tour de France

Updated: July 24, 2011, 14:55


PARIS (AP) With a doping case still hanging over 2010 champion Alberto Contador, this year's Tour de France is being lauded by anti-doping experts as perhaps one of the cleanest in recent years.

The Tour has had just one positive test - Russian rider Alexander Kolobnev quit the race after testing positive for a banned masking agent.

There was only one positive last year as well, and that was Contador's.

The three-week race ended Sunday with Australia's Cadel Evans winning the title for the first time. All the test results aren't in yet, and it would be premature to make final conclusions.

"Let's wait and see. The remaining analysis of the samples collected over the last few days will be performed next week,'' Bruno Genevois, president of French anti-doping agency ALFD told The Associated Press on Sunday. "We will asses everything together with the UCI later.''

But officials sensed a change this year.

"When you look at the race, it's obvious that we don't have the same feeling like in the past, when riders were sometimes supermen,'' ALFD scientific adviser Michel Rieu told the AP. "Most of the riders suffered a lot, you could see it on their faces, and they didn't give the impression of riding scooters instead of bikes.''

Rieu said many of the tests performed during the race were done by surprise and might have "unsettled those who wanted to get involved in systematic doping.''

"It looks like something happened this year,'' he said.

Contador tested positive during last year's race for the banned muscle builder clenbuterol, but the result was announced only in September. Cleared by the Spanish cycling federation after blaming the test on contaminated beef, the three-time Tour winner was allowed to ride in this year's race pending an appeals ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The case originally was scheduled to be heard in June, but CAS pushed the dates back to August, acceding to a request from Contador's legal team for more time to prepare. The World Anti-Doping Agency and UCI are challenging the Spanish decision to acquit him.

Contador could lose all his victories since the positive test, including last year's Tour title and the Giro d'Italia crown he won in May, and face a two-year ban.

After suffering crashes and a knee injury, Contador, who also appeared tired after his win in the Giro, finished fifth in this year's Tour.

Thomas Voeckler, a 32-year-old French rider from the unheralded Europcar team, defied the odds this year to wear the yellow jersey for 10 days, posting the best overall result for a Frenchman in 11 years.

Asked about Voeckler's performance, UCI president Pat McQuaid said the Frenchman's great showing suggested the sport is becoming cleaner.

"But I don't think it's ever possible, not just in cycling but in any sport, that you're going to get no cheaters,'' McQuaid added.

The decline of results of French cyclists at the Tour over the last 20 years has often been explained by the rigorous anti-doping measures in France.

Renewed cooperation between the UCI and France's anti-doping agency - who seem to have buried their past differences - has also been cited as a significant factor at this year's Tour.

With the help of a special police unite providing them with information, the agencies performed many out-of-competition tests before the Tour, which might have served as a deterrent.

"Fighting against doping is extremely complicated, but it's much easier when it's done together,'' Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. "And here is a good example of the anti-doping authorities working together. The UCI and AFLD are working hand in hand.''

Professor Michel Audran, a leading French expert in blood doping, said he hopes this year's race will be remembered as "the Tour of the revival.''

"I'm not saying doping has been eradicated, but in my opinion they didn't take anything serious, nor receive blood transfusions during this Tour,'' he said.

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