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At the Giro, it’s all about the racing, not Landis

The Floyd Landis story went viral Thursday, but riders competing in the Giro d’Italia didn’t know the full extent of the blockbuster accusations until well after the final sprint.

The headlines were changing by the hour in a series of revelations and denials regarding Landis’s allegations of systematic doping throughout his career. Racers at the Giro were still catching their breath at the finish line when journalists peppered them with questions.

“I don’t even know what happened, I’ve been racing the Giro all day!” said stage winner Filippo Pozzato (Katusha). “Journalists only ask about cycling when there is a doping scandal. No one pays attention to the positive changes the sport has made. Cycling is cleaner now than the old days. We have accepted all the rules imposed from us from the outside, unlike other sports. You can see cycling has changed. The riders are more tired, the race cannot be controlled like before, young riders are coming to the forefront. Why don’t journalists write about that?”

The Landis story was making waves, but it certainly didn’t have the same impact as it is at the Tour of California.

There was a muted reaction among the Giro peloton when they woke up Thursday morning. Riders were more interested in digesting the fallout from Wednesday’s epic stage than the growing Landis scandal that was dominating headlines across the ocean.

“I read an article this morning on ESPN. I don’t know what to say. If you think about what happened in his hearings, it’s not a big surprise,” said Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) before the start. “He was already suspended and he denied it until the last moment. When I got the news, I was not so surprised. He was claiming his innocence, now he changes, so it proves that USADA was right when they decided to ban him.”

Officials at BMC – many of whom worked with Landis at Phonak during his tainted Tour de France victory in 2006 – did not want to speak. Sport director John Lelangue, who directed Landis in 2006 with Phonak, refused to comment before Thursday’s start.

“We’ve just seen a small story on a Web site, so there’s nothing really I can say,” said BMC spokesman Georges Luchinger on Thursday morning. “He’s saying some strong things. First he takes an oath that says he’s saying the truth, now he’s changing his mind and saying he was lying before.”

By the end of the stage, however, more details of Landis’s allegations were published online as media around the world dug into the story. Versions of an alleged letter written by Landis to USA Cycling officials named several riders and staff. BMC owner Andy Rihs and team manager Jim Ochowicz each released strong denials.

One name mentioned in the alleged Landis letter was Michael Barry, currently racing on Team Sky at the Giro. Landis rode together with Barry at the U.S. Postal Service team.

Team Sky general manager Dave Brailsford spoke with journalists following Thursday’s stage. He defended Barry and said the Canadian veteran comes with good credentials after racing for Columbia for three seasons.

“There are allegations. I think from our point of view, we’ll speak to Michael. But like anything else in life, you have to establish fact. We have procedures, and the procedures will be based on fact – not allegations,” Brailsford said after the stage. “If allegations can be substantiated, there are procedures to handle everything from there.”

“We are an open, transparent team and we’re here to race clean. We believe you can perform clean at the elite end of this sport,” Brailsford continued. “Now I could be horribly mistakes, but from the evidence that I have, it can be done and that’s what we’re here to do.”

The 93rd Giro is one of the most exciting and wide-open in years, and so far has not been marred by doping scandals, police raids or other controversy that’s been such a part of the recent history of the race.

Most people associated in the Giro were hoping that Landis’s admissions of doping remain part of cycling’s past.

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