Spain’s ongoing doping investigation turned into an executioner Friday at the Tour de France, essentially decapitating the peloton’s hierarchy just 24 hours ahead of Saturday’s prologue start in Strasbourg.
Pre-race favorites Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Ivan Basso (CSC) were among nine riders from five teams who were ruled out of the 93rd Tour in what brought back bad memories of the 1998 Festina scandal.
Others not being allowed to start are Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile), Francisco Mancebo (Ag2r) and five members of Astana-Wurth: Sergio Paulinho, Isidro Nozal, Allan Davis, Alberto Contador and Joseba Beloki.
Ullrich’s and Basso’s names were on a list of riders released by Spanish authorities late Thursday that were alleged to have contact with Eufemiano Fuentes, the Spanish doctor at the center of an suspected blood doping ring.
“I have nothing to do with all this, but I will let my lawyers speak about this before me,” Basso told Italian television.
Only nine names were on an official UCI list, but Spanish media outlets printed a longer version that included 32 active riders and five retired riders.
“I am in shock. I could cry,” Ullrich told German television. “I have no contact with Fuentes. I don’t know him. I arrived at this Tour in perfect condition. I am completely depressed but I will fight with my lawyers.”
Spanish authorities uncovered an alleged blood doping ring with five arrests May 23 and a series of media leaks over the past week reached a boiling point ahead of this weekend’s start of cycling’s marquee race.
Officials took the unprecedented decision Friday to try to prevent the Tour from being overwhelmed by the sport’s biggest doping scandal since the 1998 Festina Affaire.
“This is worse than 1998. Cycling is at the point of death,” said Caisse d’Epargne sport director Eusebio Unzue.