Tales from the peloton, July 25, 2007
Rest - the dictionary defines it as a "period or interval of inactivity, repose, solitude, or tranquility". It seems, however, that in cycling the definition is inversed - as the Tour de France's second of two rest days could be described as chaotic, or turbulent - but certainly not inactive. The activities that would unfold on July 24 were cracked wide open when French paper L'Equipedropped the bombshell that a blood sample tested at the Châtenay-Malabry laboratory from Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov had tested non-negative on the media outlet's website.
Shortly after, French authorities came-a-knocking at Astana's team hotel - the Palmeraie Hotel in Pau. As authorities settled into a rhythm for a day-long search and questioning at the premises, media vans began to roll in cavalcades toward the hotel. Astana's Marc Biver soon confirmed the dual stage winner's non-negative sample in a press conference, which followed a brief official release from the squad.
All eyes quickly turned to the Tour de France's director Christian Prudhomme and ASO, the company which owns the Tour, president Patrice Clerc. The pair have been clear on their anti-doping stance following the events of 2006, and were quick to invite the entire Astana squad to leave its prestigious Grand Tour - and offer the Switzerland-registered ProTour team quickly accepted.
As Discovery Channel laid about its hotel in a relatively calm environment, and Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen found himself out of the doping spotlight for a change, Prudhomme was quick to say he now has 'regrets' over granting the Kazakhstan-backed squad a wildcard entry into this year's race.
Meanwhile, a few borders away in Italy, Alessandro Petacchi (Team Milram), who was originally slated to contest the Tour, was delighted as the Italian Cycling Federation's disciplinary committee cleared him of suspicion of doping. The Italian National Olympic Committee has recommended a 12 month ban for Petacchi after the rider recorded a non-negative sample from the Giro d'Italia.
With action like that on the official 'rest day', its little wonder the remaining 151 riders are looking forward to returning to the Pyrénées for, well, a rest.