0

Amid several scandals, Tour de France sets 2011 course

Photo by Bas Czerwinski

Photo by Bas Czerwinski

PARIS -- The route for the 2011 Tour de France will be announced today, with cycling yet again in turmoil and its two greatest champions of the last decade not part of the ceremony.

Alberto Contador, the three-time Tour winner and defending champion, has been suspended by cycling's governing body for a positive doping test. Lance Armstrong, winner of seven straight Tours, is in Aspen, Colo., where his girlfriend gave birth to his fifth child.

Contador spokesman Jacinto Vidarte said the Spaniard's presence in Paris might have harmed the presentation.

Armstrong has said that last summer's Tour was his final one. He finished in 23rd place, nearly 40 minutes behind Contador, but is not officially retired. The 39-year-old Texan still rides for the RadioShack team and said he will compete in smaller races next season as an ambassador of the fight against cancer.

Twenty-eight teams will be represented by about 40 riders at the ceremony, including Tour runner-up Andy Schleck, Giro winner Ivan Basso and top sprinter Mark Cavendish.

The presentation couldn't come at a worse moment. More doping cases have emerged of late and Italy's anti-doping prosecutor is convinced all cyclists are cheating.

Cycling has been battered by doping scandals for more than a decade and Tour officials are accustomed to answering questions about the credibility of their sport. Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, however, may well struggle at the presentation to keep the attention on the race itself rather than on doping.

Ezequiel Mosquera, runner-up in the Spanish Vuelta last month, has tested positive for a masking agent that increases blood volume.

The news emerged on the same day that cycling's ruling body said Contador failed a test. Earlier in the month, a government official in Spain said no fewer than seven Spanish cyclists are under investigation for doping. In the U.S., the Anti-Doping Agency has sanctioned at least five cyclists for doping in the past two months.

Prudhomme hasn't publicly expressed his views since Contador was suspended after a small amount of the banned drug clenbuterol was discovered in one of his samples from this year's Tour by a laboratory in Cologne, Germany.

Contador said the positive test was caused by food contamination and denied speculation he also engaged in blood transfusions during the race.

Contador faces a two-year suspension. If Tour officials withdraw his title, Contador would be just the second cyclist to be forced to relinquish it. American Floyd Landis was stripped of his 2006 title for doping.

The 2011 Tour route's climax is expected to be in the Alps, with a reported stage finish at the top of L'Alpe d'Huez two days before the finish on the Champs-Elysees.

For now, Tour organizers have announced only that the race will start July 2 with a flat stage in the Vendee region on the western coast.

The 112-mile first stage from Passage du Gois to Mont Des Alouettes will be followed by a 14-mile team time trial around Les Essarts on July 3. The race ends July 24.