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Verbruggen: Tour organizers ‘overreacted’ in bid to ban riders

Tour de France officials are getting carried away with their duties when it comes to barring suspect riders from the race, the president of the sport's governing body said Friday. UCI president Hein Verbruggen hit out at organizers who wanted to bar two Tour competitors, including one from Lance Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor team, because they are implicated in a previous doping affair. Italian authorities accuse U.S. Postal's Pavel Padrnos of the Czech Republic and Quick Step’s Stefano Zanini of Italy of possessing or using doping products during the 2001 Giro d’Italia. The

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By Agence France Presse

Tour de France officials are getting carried away with their duties when it comes to barring suspect riders from the race, the president of the sport’s governing body said Friday.

UCI president Hein Verbruggen hit out at organizers who wanted to bar two Tour competitors, including one from Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor team, because they are implicated in a previous doping affair.

Italian authorities accuse U.S. Postal’s Pavel Padrnos of the Czech Republic and Quick Step’s Stefano Zanini of Italy of possessing or using doping products during the 2001 Giro d’Italia.

The two were among a group of 12 people – 10 riders and two masseurs – ordered to appear before a San Remo court on October 27.

Tour de France organizers, who have already barred two other riders from the race, immediately called on UCI to bar the riders but it refused.

Tour organizers have already thrown out Slovenian Martin Hvastija and Stefano Casagranda of Italy after being implicated in the doping affair in Italy. But this time, Verbruggen said, they had overstepped the mark.

“The organizers of the Tour de France have overreacted,” Verbruggen told AFP after the Professional Cycling Council’s decision to overrule the organizers’ appeal. “In France, it’s like a massacre. I can understand their emotion. But I’m outside France and I can see the wider perspective. The press have just gone too far, especially Le Monde.”

Referring to the French newspaper, which has a staunch anti-doping stance and which published a story on Padrnos and Zanini, Verbruggen added, “For me, it’s (the newspaper) of no importance, although it does put tremendous pressure on the organizers.”

Verbruggen said that the organizers had effectively bowed to a kind of pre-Tour paranoia, which this year was accentuated by a controversial book on five-time winner Armstrong, which alleges he had used the banned blood booster EPO.

French sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour has also been critical of anti-doping efforts of late.

Verbruggen added: “In the two or three weeks leading up to the Tour, it’s like a tradition, since 1999, for all the magistrates and journalists who bring out books on doping, television programs and even ministers who feel obliged to make big declarations about cycling and doping. All of this simply raises the temperature, and some day it has to stop.

“In a way you can understand the attitude of the (race) organizers. They’re becoming more catholic than the pope, more royalist than the king, as you say in France,” said Verbruggen, a Dutchman.