By Anthony Tan in Strasbourg
Although not available for comment after today's dramatic news, Team CSC was less tight-lipped at yesterday's press conference.
Asked about the problems stemming from 'Operacion Puerto', the now excluded team leader Ivan Basso replied: "My opinion is that I work hard for this Tour, and I think only about this race. My job is to ride the bike fast, and after the Giro, I put 100 percent [effort into] the Tour de France. I only read what has been written... I don't know more."
Said team manager Bjarne Riis: "I think it's obvious it's not good for cycling, but I'm in a situation where I cannot do much about it. I really don't know what to do or say about it... it affects us all, and it's bad for us all. Whether one should be doing this Tour or not, again, it's not up to me to decide that.
"As I said before, it's never good when things like this happen in cycling, in any sport. So... I don't know - you have to wait and see what comes out, and know what the situation is. There has been a lot of rumours, a lot of talking, a lot of noise... and it's been very difficult to handle; it's frustrating for us all, for the teams, for the press. I think a lot of positive things came out of '98... I don't know, let's wait and see."
Riis didn't have to wait long. Less than 24 hours later, the Tour de France world - in fact, the entire sporting world - has been turned upside down. Following a meeting between the French and Spanish ministers of sport this morning, and confirmed by race organisers A.S.O. at noon today, Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, Oscar Sevilla, Francisco Mancebo, among at least 16 others, have been withdrawn out of the 2006 Tour de France, and will not be replaced.
One of Team CSC's American riders, Bobby Julich, was the victim of a similar situation at the 1998 Tour de France, when the Festina doping scandal overshadowed a podium finish in Paris. Yesterday, Julich showed either ignorance or bluff when asked if he knew any more about the situation: "It has nothing to do with me and has nothing to do with my team, so we're absolutely focused on fulfilling our objectives of winning the Tour and being competitive as we can," he said.
Continued Julich: "A lot of it is still unknown, but in 1998, French cycling sort of purged itself because of the Festina thing. Obviously, it's very bad and very stressful to deal with in the Tour, but there was a positive outcome.
"Italy followed a few years later, and now it's Spain. That's always the negative thing, to have this sort of thing come out in the Tour de France, but if it's going to make this sport better and it's up to young riders like Frank Schleck or Cancellara to make sure this sport is clean. Y'know you have to clean it before you can expect things to change... Whatever happens in Spain is going to happen."