TOUR DE FRANCE SAYS NO PUERTO RIDERS WILL START 2007 RACE

Christian Prudhomme

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has said no rider implicated in last year?s Spanish anti-doping investigation, Operacion Puerto, will be welcome at this year?s event.

?We cannot afford to let riders named in the case enter the Tour if they are not cleared of suspicion.? Christian Prudhomme told the French press on Friday.

Discussions have now opened up between the Tour and team managers - including Discovery Channel, who signed Ivan Basso, the 2006 Tour of Italy winner who was named in Puerto, last January. Prudhomme will continue these discussions at Fleche Wallone, which Tour organisers ASO also run, next week.

?We are back where we were last year with one difference - we now know we can establish the truth.? Prudhomme added. He was referring to the DNA analysis which confirmed that nine bags of blood found during the investigation belonged to 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich. Ullrich was suspended by his team on the morning of the Tour prologue in Strasbourg last year and later sacked. He has now retired.

Both Ullrich and Basso have always said they were innocent of any charges. Prudhomme?s announcement has already been backed by several team managers, including T-Mobile, Gerolsteiner and the majority of the French ProTour teams. As yet there has been no reaction from Discovery Channel officials.

Puerto has been closed by the judge reponsible for the case, after he said no offences were committed under Spanish law. However, he confirmed that a doping ring had existed.

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