By Gregor Brown in Narbonne
Following the conclusion of stage 12 both maillot jaune Cadel Evans and stage winner Mark Cavendish faced a series of questions regarding the big story of the day: Riccardo Riccò's failed test for EPO. Evans was quick to praise the efforts of race organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and cycling's governing body, the UCI, for their work in tackling the problem, while both riders insisted catching cheats be viewed as a sign of the sport being cleaned up, rather than a damning indictment of its current state.
Evans had witnessed Riccò's power up close after watching him ride away on the Col d'Aspin to a solo victory in Bagnères de Bigorre. Twenty-four hours later, the two finished in the same group at Hautacam, where Riccò's team-mates Leonardo Piepoli and Juan José Cobo had ruled the day.
"I hope that the cheats have been caught and the sport has really been cleaned up in a fair and transparent way, which is a lot more than I can say for other professions in the world," said Evans. "What frustrates me the most is the focus on the negative issues when the federations, the UCI, the ASO are trying to do to do the right thing - clean up the sport. They are trying to do the right thing, but they are being criticised for it.
"It is something that is very unfair. Our sport is doing the right thing and we are being crucified for it. What are we supposed to do it, let it be a free for all like other professions? Or are we going to be complimented for it?"
Team Columbia's Cavendish, whose third stage victory was the most of any British rider in a single Tour de France, said the events surrounding Riccò did not affect his plans for the stage. "When I woke up this morning, before I knew anything about it, I was up for the win and the news did not make a difference," Cavendish said.
Like Evans, Cavendish reminded the media that catching riders cheating is not a bad sign, but a sign that the anti-doping processes are working. "It shows the sports changing for the best," he said. "I have only been professional for one and a half years and I want to be professional for many more - I am going to love this sport. I would like these changes to carry on - it is a good thing."
Cavendish was then asked how the public can believe any rider who says he races clean at the Tour de France, when the world's biggest race has seen three of its 198 participants caught using EPO in the last seven days.
Cavendish attempted to explain, following an uncomfortably long pause. "I am in a sport that I love," he said. "I believe in hard work, and to get the best out of yourself takes hard work. I don't want to challenge the sport I love. I know that the majority feel the same way as me.
"Cycling is not just a job, but a passion, people that resort to doping don't have the passion I have. It is not just this case in cycling, but in every aspect of life. The tests are catching people and for me that is a good thing."
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