German TV pulls plug on Tour over drugs

From William Fotheringham, The Guardian
In the first move of its kind by any of the broadcasters that cover the Tour de France, the German state television channels ARD and ZDF are to leave the race today and, for the time being, stop covering it following a positive drugs test by the German cyclist Patrick Sinkewitz. Nicolas Brender, the head editor of ZDF, said “We cannot show an event with teams and riders who are suspected of doping.”

The broadcasters, which cover the race jointly, have been a massive presence at the race since 1997, when Jan Ullrich gave Germany its first win in the Tour. They had thought long and hard before covering this year’s race after Ullrich’s implication in the Operation Puerto blood doping scandal and revelations of doping by German cyclists in recent months.

The German Cycling Union, the BDR, said yesterday possible signs of abuse of the male hormone testosterone had been detected in a urine sample taken from Sinkewitz while he was training with his team, T-Mobile, in the Pyrenees on June 8. Analysis of the B-sample will take place if requested by the cyclist within four days. The 26-year-old domestique, who has now been suspended by T-Mobile, was forced to pull out on Sunday after a freak accident in the Alps and is presently in hospital in Hamburg.

The broadcasters’ decision was criticised by the German Linus Gerdemann, whose stage win on Saturday had, temporarily, revitalised Germany’s passion for the Tour. Gerdemann said: “The controls are working, they are catching guys, so I’m sorry that [the TV stations] are going. If the B-sample is positive, then that’s sad and completely stupid. Playing with his job and his employers is not tolerable.”

T-Mobile is the biggest sponsor of professional cycling and its €14m (£9m) team includes the British riders Roger Hammond and Mark Cavendish. The company will examine its future in the sport this summer. The positive test, if confirmed, would be damaging for the team, which was relaunched following Ullrich’s ejection from last year’s Tour. T-Mobile put the emphasis on young riders, revamped management, an ethical charter and strict internal dope testing. However Sinkewitz is the second rider in “New T-Mobile” to face the sack: the team fired the time-triallist Serhiy Honchar this season after tests showed abnormalities in his blood.

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