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Tour rolls on in shadow of scandal

  • Story Highlights
  • French newspaper declares Tour de France "dead" amid wave of drugs scandals
  • Leader Michael Rasmussen, favorite Alexander Vinokourov both thrown out
  • Race director says majority of riders are clean, Tour will continue to finish Sunday
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By CNN's Simon Hooper
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(CNN) -- The Tour de France continued on Thursday with a shadow hanging over its future as European newspapers called for the historic race to be stopped in the wake of a string of doping scandals that critics say have undermined its integrity.

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Riders pass a sign reading "Come on, clean cycling" during Thursday's stage.

Race leader Michael Rasmussen, who had been expected to wear the iconic yellow jersey until the end of the Tour on Sunday, was sacked by his Rabobank team after winning Wednesday's stage in the Pyrenees amid revelations he had failed to notify cycling authorities of his whereabouts for dope-testing purposes.

Rabobank said the Danish rider, who had been jeered by fans earlier in the day, had also broken team rules.

Rasmussen's expulsion came just one day after another favorite, Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping. The Kazakh's entire Astana team also withdrew from the race.

Another team, Cofidis, pulled out on Tuesday after one of their riders, Cristian Moreni, failed a drugs test.

"The Tour is dead," read the headline in Liberation as the French newspaper said it would no longer publish the daily stage results ahead of Sunday's finish in Paris.

"We are not going to publish them simply because the mounting doping scandals have taken away any sporting value from the event and gives no real sense of who is the best rider," Liberation said.

Germany's Bild newspaper said Sunday's arrival in Paris would be a "funeral procession."

"We have to stop this farce. Nobody wants to see this crooked event. They have to begin from zero in order to save the sport, to present to our children new role models."

In Spain, El Pais said the Tour had been "mortally wounded" while Italy's La Repubblica commented: "Cycling is sick like for instance a friend or a relation who is on drugs. That is why it is in need of being kept alive and not allowed to die."

In the UK, the Independent called for the return of "Madame Guillotine."

"The Tour must be killed off, now and at least for 2008. Only a breath of credibility can bring the hope of a decent resurrection," the paper commented.

The problems that have afflicted this year's race are only the latest in a string of scandals that have tarnished the event in recent years.

During the Lance Armstrong era -- the American rider won seven straight Tours from 1999 to 2005 -- the sport had appeared to be coming to terms with the doping problem that had seemed rife in the sport when the 1998 race descend into farce with the Festina team thrown out and several team staff arrested on trafficking charges.

But Floyd Landis' victory in last year's race is still in doubt after it was revealed the American had failed a drugs test. Many of the pre-race favorites had been barred from starting amid a Spanish inquiry into allegations of widespread doping.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme told reporters Rasmussen's eviction by his team was "the best piece of news we've had in the last eight days" as the race continued on Thursday without a rider in the overall leader's yellow jersey.

"The race will go on for the rest of the riders and we believe it would be an insult to them to stop the race... The majority of the riders are not cheating. And things are changing," said Prudhomme. "We need to continue the fight against doping in the sport."

Speaking to Danish newspaper BT, Rasmussen, who has denied doping, said he was "shattered," and claimed reports he had been in Italy when he had informed Rabobank team bosses he would be in Mexico were untrue.

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"I am on the verge of tears. I was not in Italy. Not at all. That's the story of one man who believes he recognized me. There is no hint of evidence."

Spaniard Alberto Contador, Rasmussen's nearest rival in the race, pulled on the yellow jersey after completing Thursday's 17th stage, won by Italian Daniele Bennati. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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