THE rumble of thunder heard early yesterday evening could not have been more prescient.
After a roasting hot day in Strasbourg the riders were thankful for a brief cooling of temperatures as the clouds rolled in and the rain threatened to fall heavily.
But the storm held off, and the show went on at the ceremonial team presentation last night. It wasn?t until this morning that the clouds broke and the torrent of depressing news was unleashed.
Jan Ullrich, the joint-favourite, suspended by T-Mobile in the wake of revelations his name was among those alleged to have used the services of Dr Eufamiano Fuentes. Although not proof that he ? and Oscar Sevilla, his team-mate ? had doped, T-Mobile said it had to take decisive action after being confronted with documents by ASO proved they had contact with the doctor ? something they had lied about.
It gets worse: Ivan Basso, Francisco Mancebo and eight members of the Astana-Wurth team ? though not Alexandre Vinokourov ? were also on the list of clients of the controversial doctor at Madrid laboratory Iclinic.
All the clichés sprang to mind as the portents of scandal loomed large on the banks of the river in Strasbourg?s pretty little old quarter. Rats deserting the sinking ship, up the creek without a paddle. This was far from a pleasant little boat ride on calm waters.
Although there was a subdued atmosphere among the riders it did not transmit to the crowd, most of whom could not have been aware of the news that was breaking before their eyes.
Astana-Wurth, told by Jean-Marie Leblanc they would not be welcome at the Tour took their place on the podium but stayed up there for the briefest of times. There was no celebratory recall of their riders? palmares by Tour speaker Daniel Mangeas, just their names, as they were whisked off the stage and away.
T-Mobile and CSC also left the stage and quickly headed away. It was ironic that the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for Ullrich, who must have had an inkling that dressing in his magenta and white strip last night would be the only time he?d pull on a race kit this month.
So, the storm has broken and the downpour is underway. The mood in Strasbourg is bleak. There are whispered conversations in hotel lobbies while the riders whose names are not implicated go about preparing for the prologue and three weeks ahead against the most surreal and distracting backdrop.
As the rain falls over the next 24 hours or so, let?s hope this is The Big One. The one that cleanses the streets and washes all the dope away.
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