One of Spain?s most popular stage races, the Tour of Murcia, has been added to the increasingly long list of cancelled races in the country. An ongoing dispute between state television channel TVE and the non-ProTour stage races which make up the bulk of the Spanish racing calendar has caused its cancellation.

The category 2.1 five-day race was due to take place from March 7th 7-11th this spring. But after TVE announced that they were no longer prepared to cover non-ProTour races on one of their main channels - as haD been the case for the last 15 years - Murcia has been cancelled.

In less than two years, Spain has lost four of its best-known races - the Tour of Aragon, the Catalan Week, the GP Luis Puig, and now Murcia. Another early season race, the Tour of Valencia, is said to be facing major difficulties getting sponsors for this year?s race. The ongoing problems with doping in the sport, combined - so its critics say - with the loss in prestige of smaller races because of the ProTour, are making it harder and harder for cycling to gain the tv coverage it needs to keep the sponsors interested.

Murcia had traditionally been used by major stars in the past as a way of easing into the season. After Miguel Indurain started using the race, Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani all regularly took part. Britain?s Chris Boardman was a double stage winner in the race early in his career.

This year the line-up was as impressive as usual: Alexandre Vinokourov, local star Alejandro Valverde, Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso were all down to ride.

In other Spanish cycling news, Tour runner-up Oscar Pereiro is due to find out on Thursday [January 25th] whether he will face further investigation from the French anti-doping authorities about his use of salbutamol during last year?s race. Pereiro, recognised as an asthmatic, has a TUE [Therapeutic Use Exemption] certficate since 2005 from the UCI allowing him to use the drug.

On Wednesday, WADA boss Richard Pound blamed the ?Pereiro affair? on ?an unacceptable leak of information to the press and the fact that France has yet to accept the WADA code.?

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