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Doping Bans Set Tour de France Off Kilter

A doping scandal has hit the Tour de France before the cyclists have begun peddling. Favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are among the cyclists who have been banned from the competition, which starts Saturday. Ullrich won the race in 1997.

The scandal stems from a doping probe in Spain that implicates at least 50 other cyclists. The first Tour since seven-time winner Lance Armstrong retired is now mired in controversy instead of drama.

Basso of Italy, Ulrich of Germany and Francisco Mancebo of Spain all are out because of the doping scandal. Another rider, Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, wasn't implicated directly. But five of his teammates were, so the whole team was pulled out.

The cyclists are on a list of 58 riders who Spanish authorities said had contact with a doctor allegedly involved in blood doping. The scandal broke in May; after names were leaked to the Spanish media, the authorities apparently sent the list and other information to Tour de France officials.

And as part of a code of conduct signed by cycling teams, the rides weren't officially banned by the race organizers -- their teams withdrew them.

In entering the pact, teams agreed not to participate with riders who were under investigation if the allegations pass a test of credibility.

Ullrich and Basso have maintained that they are innocent of the charges.

The three-week, 2,270-mile race begins Saturday in Strasbourg. With the withdrawals, the top finisher in the field from last year's race now is Levi Leipheimer, an American. Other Americans who had hoped to get out from under Armstrong's shadow also have a shot: Floyd Landis and George Hincapie.

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