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Posted at 5:58 a.m., Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cycling: Tour officials want UCI chief to resign

By Jerome Pugmire
Associated Press

COGNAC, France — Tour de France officials launched a two-pronged assault on the cycling governing body today, with the director saying the Tour will stop working with UCI and the owner calling for cycling chief Pat McQuaid to step down.

It's the latest move in a long-running feud between the two organizations, escalating this week after former Tour leader Michael Rasmussen and other cyclists were removed from the race because of doping suspicions.

"We will no longer work together with the UCI, there will be special rules for the Tour de France," Prudhomme said today in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily. "The UCI never wanted a clean tour. With all respect, it's worthless. But next year it's likely we will have a clean tour."

Patrice Clerc, the head of the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) that owns the 104-year-old race, wants McQuaid to quit.

"In any society, public or private, those responsible would have no choice but to resign," Clerc said. "The UCI, by the way its acted, at minimum has lacked clarity, transparency, professionalism, competence and in every case has shown a complete lack of conscience.

"We don't want this system. We need to be independent of people who are either incompetent or have the desire to spoil (the race), to hurt the Tour de France."

McQuaid vowed to stay on as the head of the International Cycling Union.

"Cycling does not belong to the Tour de France, it belongs to the cycling family," McQuaid told The Associated Press. "Are we to blame because there are guys getting caught (cheating). We couldn't break the rules in relation to Michael Rasmussen to stop him coming into the race.

"It's no use making rules as you go along as they've done here this week. The sport needs a structure under a government and not everybody doing their own thing."

Tour officials blame McQuaid's UCI for not implementing a stronger doping program, and for allowing Rasmussen to start the race even though he's accused of lying about his whereabouts before the Tour and missing doping tests.

"That happened even though, along with the UCI, we put out an insistent plea in April to the teams not to let anyone suspected of doping start the race," Prudhomme said. "The UCI knew everything. It's unbelievable that they didn't say anything to us."

On Wednesday, Rasmussen was removed from the race, which he led since July 15, by his Rabobank team.

"The piloting of cycling's reconstruction cannot be given to the UCI," Clerc said. "We will have to do it with all those who reject the current system in order to find our values again: riders, teams, sponsors, federations ... will all need to unite."

McQuaid was not invited to the race by organizers, but showed up for today's 19th stage time trial at the invitation of a French television station.

The feud between Clerc and McQuaid has been building since October 2005, when Clerc accused the UCI of not doing enough to combat doping. McQuaid said he "would never do anything to hurt the Tour de France" and that it was "scandalous" for Clerc's ASO to suggest it.

Prudhomme said he will attend a doping summit hosted by the World Anti-Doping Agency to help clean up next year's Tour, along with taking other measures.

"We will take the initiative in this debate," Clerc said. "We will communicate the results of our work on October 25, when we will announce the 2008 Tour route."

In addition to Rasmussen, Alexandre Vinokourov and his Astana team left the Tour because of doping accusations, along with Italian rider Cristian Moreni and his team Cofidis.

Alberto Contador took the yellow jersey after the ejection of Rasmussen, but German media reported that the Spanish rider's name appears on documents seized in the blood-doping scandal known as Operation Puerto.

Prudhomme said it was decided at a meeting with the UCI in May that Contador wasn't under suspicion.

"But that was before the Tour," Prudhomme said. "Now, we have absolutely no trust in what the UCI said about him. That definitely would be a dilemma. The drama, unfortunately, is suspicion is now everywhere."

McQuaid said the real culprit is doping.

"We should be sitting down together working on plans for the future," he said. "The biggest enemy of cycling at the moment is the doping problem."