Two riders will race this year's Tour de France after being absent since serving doping suspensions, but Tour director Christian Prudhomme is not embarrassed by their presence in his event.
Alexander Vinokourov has not competed in the race since he left in disgrace in 2007 after testing positive for blood doping, while Ivan Basso has been absent from the Tour since 2005, having been excluded from the 2006 edition after being linked to blood bags seized from a Madrid clinic in the Operación Puerto doping investigation.
Vinokourov returned to racing after his suspension was up last July, while Basso's case was more prolonged. He finally admitted to his involvement in the doping operations prior to the 2007 Tour, and served a suspension through the end of 2008. While he returned to racing last season with Liquigas, he did not compete in the 2009 Tour de France.
"The riders who are returning have served their penalty," Prudhomme told AFP. "They cheated, they were punished, they've come back, I hope they are accepted. Should the punishments we deliver in cycling be any different than those required in life in general?"
Prudhomme said he feels as if there has been a real breakthrough in cleaning up cycling over previous years. He cited improved doping controls, the biological passport and sanctions as the factors in making the sport more fair.
"Those who cheat can be convicted of doping by standard doping tests or by the biological passport. Although it's not a 100 percent guarantee, it is definitely a plus in comparison to the way things were done in the past."
The doping controls of this year's Tour de France will be under the domain of the UCI after the French Anti-doping Agency's (AFLD) demands to be included were denied, but Prudhomme said the inclusion of observers from the World Anti-Doping Agency will "guarantee transparency". Last year the AFLD complained that the UCI's doping controllers had given preferential treatment to the Astana team.
Prudhomme said the number of controls will be similar to last year, and that additional checks will be performed by the UCI on riders' equipment to ensure that rumoured mechanical assist devices will not be employed.