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Tainted Tour de France finishes under cloud

Rampant doping cast a pall over the Tour de France's 104th year.

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"Now it's a very bad time for cycling and for sport in general," says T-Mobile spokesman Christian Frommert. "We are a big company in Germany, and we have to raise our voice about some of these things."

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Mr. Frommert says the company is struggling to decide whether to end its cycling sponsorship after 16 years.

The doping scandals have brought a political reaction as well. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is calling the Stuttgart championships, scheduled for Sept. 25-30, the last chance for cycling.

But Mr. Schaeuble is also threatening to pull government funding for the event – 150,000 euros – and perhaps ban it altogether if it can't be certifiably free of cheating.

"The sponsorship sum really isn't the problem," says Christian Sachs, Schaueble's spokesman. "We cannot put taxpayers' money in an event that obviously includes criminal networks and riders."

Austrian, German antidoping laws

Some are saying the sport needed to hit bottom before it could really clean itself up. In the last month, Austria and Germany passed strict antidoping laws that make using banned performance-enhancers a federal crime.

It will still be up to individual sports associations to enforce sanctions, but the new laws require athletes to cooperate with authorities in determining the source of the illegal substances used.

"It's necessary to have this law to find out who's standing behind the athletes, to find out the criminal networks," says Ulrike Spitz, who works at the German Anti-Doping Agency, or NADA.

The German government has pledged to nearly quadruple NADA's funding, to 4 million euros a year. The Interior Ministry is also pledging to increase the public funds used for German sports next year, from 105 million euros to 120 million euros – though the opposition Social Democrats object.

"We have to make sure to keep all the good qualities of sport for our society and that can only happen by putting more money into the system and enhancing the fight against doping," Mr. Sachs says.

German cycling sponsors are diverting money from their budgets to strengthen NADA. T-Mobile has already given NADA 200,000 euros to date and has pledged to give another 250,000 euros by the end of the year. Another company, Nordmilch, which sponsors Team Milram, just pledged 150,000 euros in funding.

Perhaps most important, the teams themselves are beginning to take responsibility for riders' behavior. On teams like T-Mobile and CSC, riders are tested internally all season long.

Many say the coming months will be critical. "The sport of cycling seems to be able to damage itself but unable to help itself," says Meutgens, the author. "Let's hope the next year will be different."

A history of scandals and cheating

Allegations of doping have plagued the Tour de France since the early 1900s, when riders drank alcohol and used substances to dull pain. In the past 50 years, some riders have used amphetamines to increase stamina and ignore pain, anabolic steroids to gain muscle and strength, or erythropoietin (EPO) to stimulate red-blood-cell production and improve oxygen-carrying capacity.

Since the race's inception in 1903, allegations of doping have pursued cycling's premier race:

2007: Alexandre Vinokourov, from Kazakhstan, is forced out of this year's Tour, along with all members of the Astana team, after he tests positive for a banned blood transfusion.

2007: Bjarne Riis confesses to using EPO during his 1996 Tour win. Now head of Team CSC, he decides not to join the team for the start of the race in London on July 7.

2006: Jan Ullrich is forced out on the eve of the Tour after being linked to a massive Spanish investigation into a blood-doping scandal that implicates more than 50 riders. The 1997 Tour winner denies any wrongdoing.

2006: Italian rider Ivan Basso is also kicked out of the Tour. He receives a two-year doping penalty from his cycling federation.

2006: Tour de France winner Floyd Landis' team says he tested positive for high levels of testosterone after his Stage 17 win. The American hopes to overturn the US Anti-Doping Agency's decision and prove he did not take testosterone. Landis says the French lab made key errors.

2005: Spaniard Roberto Heras is banned for two years for testing positive for EPO in the Tour of Spain, which he won.

2004: Codifis team rider Philippe Gaumont tells investigators doping was widespread in the team; French police detain British cyclist David Millar (EPO syringes were found in his apartment).

1967: British cyclist Tommy Simpson dies climbing Mont Ventoux after using amphetamines.

1924: The Pelissier brothers admit to using chloroform, cocaine, aspirin, and "horse ointment" to boost performance.

ESPN, Reuters, and The Associated Press.

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