Three of the top five finishers from last year's Tour de France were suspended today from this year's race under a cloud of doping suspicions and accusations. The scandal comes just one day before the the world's richest and most prestigious bicycle race was to begin its three-week, 2,270-mile, 23-day run.
This year's race, the first since seven-time winner Lance Armstrong retired, will be run without front-runners Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla. At least 55 other riders, a host of team officials, and one whole team have also been sidelined, in large part because of police raids in Spain that found banned performance-enhancing drugs and other items and were said to have implicated dozens of top riders and coaches. The situation obviously throws the Tour into chaos--casting a pall over the entire sport.
Interestingly, the last Tour to start without Lance Armstrong was the 1998 race, which nearly imploded during a doping scandal eerily similar to the current crisis. Armstrong returned to competition in 1999 after cancer treatment and won seven straight Tours, and then retired after winning the race in 2005, leaving the field wide open.
Ullrich won the 1997 Tour de France and was a five-time runner-up. With Armstrong's retirement, the German rider was considered one of the favorites for this year's race. Now, Americans George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Dave Zabriskie, and Levi Leipheimer may well leap to the top of the list of contenders.