By Justin Davis – Agence France Presse
Reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador played down the threat of a doping probe that was launched a day before the presentation of next year’s race.
Paris prosecutors on Tuesday revealed they had launched an investigation after the discovery of suspicious medical equipment including “syringes and drips” during the Tour de France in July.
Astana, with which Contador and seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong raced in 2009, emerged as the targeted team in parallel press reports on Tuesday – only weeks after France’s national anti-doping agency (AFLD) claimed the team was given preferential treatment by the UCI in drug testing during the race.
The UCI immediately denied those allegations, and likewise Astana was quick to issue a statement Tuesday asserting the team had nothing to hide.
Contador, speaking at the end of the presentation for next year’s race ? which he will begin as the big favorite ? reiterated that stance.
“Astana was the most-watched team during the past year. We have nothing to hide. I don’t have any problems,” said the Spaniard, who has never tested positive for banned substances.
This year’s Tour de France was remarkable for the fact that no riders tested positive during the race.
In recent years the UCI, cycling governing body, appears to have taken significant strides in the battle against doping, notably with the pioneering “biological passport” program.
Tour organizers, and indeed the race’s owner ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) affirmed their commitment to staging a “clean race, whose records and history can be free of the scourge of doping.”
ASO chief Jean-Etienne Amaury said he regretted what has become a row between the AFLD and the UCI and noted the fact that cyclists are the “most controlled athletes in the world.”
“The vast majority of the peloton is above and beyond any suspicion of doping. The controls are working,” he said. “This year, with the introduction of the biological passport, we have taken a major step forward.
“But while we have made great progress, it’s vital that all the main players in the fight against doping ? WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), federations, and national agencies all cooperate.”
An Astana statement on Tuesday played down the reports when it said it had no knowledge of any investigation involving any members of its team.
“These media reports are the first we as a team have heard of an investigation. According to the press articles, the investigation involves a number of cycling teams having participated in the 2009 Tour de France,” said the statement. “The Astana Cycling Team has nothing to hide, the riders use no forbidden substances, the Team is confident in the result of analyses performed or to be performed by a Parisian laboratory and is prepared to cooperate.”