Doping scandals cloud cycling's future in Olympics

LONDON -- The future of men's road cycling in the Olympics could be threatened unless the sport cleans up its doping record.

Thomas Bach, vice president of the International Olympic Committee, said Tuesday the latest Tour de France doping revelations have further damaged the sport's credibility and called its Olympic status into question.

If the entire sport doesn't pull together to improve the situation, "then you have to consider giving men's road cycling a pause" from Olympic participation, Bach told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The head of world cycling called Bach's suggestion "completely unacceptable" and said the sport was weeding out the drug cheats.

Anti-doping and cycling officials said Monday that Leonardo Piepoli of Italy and Stefan Schumacher of Germany had tested positive during this year's Tour de France for CERA, an advanced version of the blood booster EPO. Italian cyclist Riccardo Ricco previously admitted to CERA use.

"This is a hard blow for the credibility of men's road cycling," Bach said. "Obviously, the riders have not changed their mentality. They had a chance to do so, but they did not and this makes it even worse."

The head of the Tour de France on Tuesday hailed a new lab test that has exposed the three riders.

"It's very good. It allows us to confound the cheaters," Christian Prudhomme told the AP. "What's being done at the Tour de France has never existed in the world of sport, in no competition."

Prudhomme said it took more than two months for the positive tests to emerge. While blood samples from riders were taken during the race, testing them for CERA was not yet authorized.

In another development, Luxembourg's anti-doping agency expanded an investigation against cyclist Frank Schleck, who wore the yellow jersey for three days during the Tour and was suspended by his team last week.

Schleck said he transferred money to a Swiss bank account held by a Spanish doctor at the heart of a major doping scandal. Schleck denied direct contact with the doctor and reiterated he never engaged in doping.

Bach, a German lawyer, said the international cycling union, or UCI, had begun effective anti-doping programs but blamed the sport's riders, race organizers, team owners and sponsors.

"I hope that now these stakeholders realize that they have to join this program and work seamlessly together," said Bach, a German lawyer. "They have to react. The credibility of men's road race cycling is at stake."

Bach said the sport should be given more time and did not face any immediate sanctions.

"I am confident that UCI will react and will call upon the other stakeholders to join and to work hand in hand," he said. "They have made an effort, but it's not enough if you have no real collaboration and cooperation. The UCI has to be the leader."

UCI president Pat McQuaid reacted strongly to Bach's comments.

"It is completely unacceptable for Thomas Bach to be saying this," he told the AP. "I don't like talking about other sports, but there are other sports with persistent problems. Instead of firing guns at cycling he should fire guns equally at them as well."

McQuaid said Bach may have been driven by the spate of doping scandals involving German riders.

"These athletes are killing cycling in Germany and damaging it around the rest of the world," he said. "That doesn't mean the whole sport should suffer."

McQuaid insisted the majority of cyclists are clean.

"Why should they be threatened because of a few bad apples?" he said. "We are weeding out the bad apples, make no mistake about it. No one can say the UCI and cycling authorities are not doing their utmost to find cheats and get them out of the sport.

"This is a low point, there is no doubt about it," McQuaid added. "Our resolve is to completely get rid of the cheats from cycling."

The French Anti-Doping Agency has been retesting blood samples from the Tour in a bid to catch more cyclists they suspect may have used CERA. The original urine tests had raised suspicions but proved inconclusive.

Bach said IOC medical experts should now consider resting samples from the Beijing Olympics to check for the same.

"They have to check what was the substance used in the Tour de France, and what was the method being applied to detect it," he said. "They then have to compare it with the testing in Beijing and decide whether it makes sense to open [the samples] now."