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By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Australia’s Cadel Evans has called on cycling’s detractors to take a long hard look at what is being done in the sport to clean up its image.
For the second consecutive day the Tour de France was rocked by controversy following the news that Italian climber Riccardo Ricco had become the third rider to test positive for the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin).
Ricco won two climbing stages last week, becoming one of the most followed riders in the Pyrenees where he left many established climbers — including Evans — in his wake with his lightning fast accelerations.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old’s Tour came to an abrupt end when he was taken into custody by French police amid scenes of chaos outside his Saunier Duval team bus before the start of stage 12.
At the end of a 167.5km ride between Lavelanet and here — along which Australian Baden Cooke crashed out of the race leaving his Barloworld team down to four riders — Mark Cavendish won a bunch sprint to claim a record three wins in a single edition for a British rider on the Tour.
Evans survived his second full day in the race’s yellow jersey with his one-second lead on Luxembourg champion Frank Schleck intact ahead of Sunday’s first day of three in the high Alps.
Evans was quick to add his voice to a growing list which believes that Ricco’s test is proof the battle to beat the cheats is slowly being won.
But the Aussie says it’s now time for other sports, who may not be so stringent in their approach to anti-doping, to start following cycling’s path.
“I’m happy the cheats are being caught, that our sport is really being cleaned up in a transparent way, which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of other professions in the world,” said Evans.
“What frustrates me most is the way people focus on the negative issues surrounding the federations, the UCI (International Cycling Union) and (the Tour’s parent company) ASO.
“They’re trying to do the right thing and they’re being criticized for it.”
Evans added: “I think it’s very unfair. Our sport is trying to do the right thing and we’re being crucified.
“What are they supposed to do? Let it all turn into a free-for-all like some sports who don’t have any testing at all? Are we going to be complimented for that?”
Ricco’s positive test for EPO was confirmed by the French national anti-doping agency (AFLD). The independent agency warned before the race it would use every possible scientific tool at their disposal in analysing the riders’ blood and urine samples in a bid to show they mean business.
So far, the strategy has worked.
Spanish duo Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) and Moises Duenas (Barloworld) have recently been pulled out of the race although their teams are still racing.
Cavendish is considered symbolic of cycling’s ‘new wave’ of riders who shun doping and openly hit out at the cheats who damage its reputation.
And after getting the measure of Aussie Robbie McEwen, Spaniard Oscar Freire and Belgian Gert Steegmans in an unstoppable drive for the finish line, the 23-year-old fought to hold back his anger on a day when celebration should have been his sole priority.
“I think in any aspect of life you’re going to get people who think they are more clever than the system, whether it’s cycling or any other sport or even in business,” said Cavendish.
“I’m in this sport because it’s one I love and feel passionate about. I put in a lot of hard work and want to get the best out of that hard work. I don’t want to tarnish the sport that I love.
“Cycling’s not just a job, it’s a passion. Maybe the people who resort to doping don’t have the passion that myself and a lot of other people have.”