Tour de France kicks off: Who to watch
Alberto Contador, coming off two consecutive wins, is the clear favorite. But he's stuck in a legal battle over allegations of doping that could nullify any titles he wins this year.
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The Garmin squad pioneered a new antidoping regimen aimed at revolutionizing cycling's culture, and has showed steady improvement since its 2008 debut – one of numerous signals that the sport has become cleaner in recent years.
Contador doping controversy
Last year's race nearly came off without a scandal, until news leaked after the race that winner Contador had tested positive for traces of the performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol.
Contador was subsequently cleared of wrongdoing this winter by the Spanish cycling federation, who accepted his claim that he’d unknowingly ingested the drug from eating tainted beef.
But that ruling is being appealed by the UCI, professional cycling’s governing body, and the World Anti-Doping Agency, which both(?) seek to sanction Contador for the failed test.
The appeal hearing was supposed to be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in June, before the Tour, but it was rescheduled last month for August – at the behest of Contador’s legal team.
Should CAS eventually overturn the Spanish cycling federation’s decision, his result this year would be erased. Contador would also lose his 2010 Tour crown and all titles from this year, including his win at May’s Giro D’Italia.
In a pre-race press conference Thursday, Contador expressed confidence that the situation would be resolved in his favor and said it would be “ridiculous if I win [the Tour] this year and they strip my title.”
With a decision hanging in the balance, Contador’s presence at this race has sparked controversy among fellow riders and fans alike.
During the presentation of his Team Saxo Bank-SunGard at a French amusement park Thursday, spectators whistled and booed Contador, the captain.
Before the presentation, Saxo Bank director Bjarne Riis defended Contador’s choice to ride.
“Everybody would love to have a solution before the Tour, but unfortunately this is what happened. We can’t do anything about it,” said Riis, who won the 1996 Tour and has admitted to doping during his career. “If you don’t agree with what happened, then question the system because we are following the rules.”
Picking up where Armstrong left off
There are a number of American riders competing this year, including many of Armstrong’s former colleagues.
At the younger end of the American rider spectrum, watch out for Garmin’s Tyler Farrar, a strong sprint specialist, and newcomer Tejay van Garderen, HTC-Highroad’s 22-year-old phenom from Montana, who placed fifth at this year’s Tour of California.