Tour director Leblanc says doped riders will be caught

Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc  Credit: Mike Powell/Getty Images
PARIS (AP) -- A top Tour de France official said Monday that riders would be wrong to think they can get away with doping at this year's showcase race.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said officials will wield new tools in their anti-doping arsenal to combat an age-old problem at the three-week race that starts Saturday.

"What do sporting authorities, research labs, sports ministers do? Every year, they are able to do a little more in the anti-doping fight," Leblanc said.

Tour organizers will concentrate on prevention and education, while leaving drug detection to the sport's governing body, the International Cycling Union (UCI), and anti-doping agencies, Leblanc said.

For the first time this Tour, the UCI plans to conduct blood tests in anti-doping controls. Previously officials relied solely on urine tests and drew blood just to determine whether cyclists' count of red blood cells was too high, a possible indicator but not proof of doping.

UCI doctor Mario Zorzoli said he did not anticipate problems with the new measure.

Leblanc acknowledged that doping has long been a scourge, saying: "It causes a lot of saliva and a lot of ink to flow. Journalists write a lot about it. That's cycling's fate."

The monetary reward of winning is part of the problem.

"Doping is a financial godsend -- there's a lot of money in doping," Leblanc said.

In a startling move, Tour organizers on Friday barred world time-trial champion David Millar of Britain after he was implicated in a doping investigation.

Police officials told the AP that investigators found syringes in Millar's home and he allegedly confessed during two days of police questioning to using the banned endurance-enhancer EPO during his career.

"As long as there are a few cheaters, we will refuse them in the Tour de France," Leblanc said.

He insisted cheats are few.

"There will still be the same millions of fans as last year to encourage on the riders," he said. "If there were only cheaters, I'd understand that they would turn their backs -- but there aren't."

Leblanc said he has not had time to read an incendiary new book -- L.A. Confidential, The Secrets of Lance Armstrong -- that insinuates that the five-time Tour champion has likely used drugs, even though the book produces no solid proof.

Armstrong has repeatedly said that he has never taken performance-enhancers.

Asked whether he believed Armstrong was clean, Leblanc said: "I don't know" but added he had doubts about the motivation of authors Pierre Ballester and David Walsh.

"I have my doubts about human nature," Leblanc said. "Jealousy toward others is everywhere."

Associated Press Writer Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report.

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