Other Sport Features
First week of the Tour has one big winner: the Tour
By Siegfried Mortkowitz Jul 16, 2007, 5:29 GMT
The pack rides during the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling race close to Tignes, 15 July 2007. The eighth stage led the riders over 165 kilometres from Le Grand-Bornand to Tignes. Rasmussen won the stage. EPA/OLIVER WEIKEN
Tignes, France - After the first week of the 2007 Tour de France, one could not blame the race organizers for sporting big shameless smiles.
With the sport of cycling in disrepute and the Tour shaken by failed drug tests and high-profile doping admissions, many people were merely hoping that this year's edition of the world's most prestigious cycling event would pass without any bad news.
But the first nine days have been far better than that.
If Tour director Christian Prudhomme had asked the gods of sport to send him the perfect poster boy for his race, he couldn't have received anyone better than 24-year-old Linus Gerdemann of Germany, who won Saturday's stage in splendid fashion and then said all the right things.
'This victory proves that it is possible to win and be clean,' Gerdemann told everyone who asked.
If he won like an experienced rider, taking off on his own from a group of riders on the final climb and keeping his composure until the finish, Gerdemann - who was participating in his first Tour de France - spoke with the voice of innocence.
'Many things are changing for the good (in cycling),' he said. 'We are on the right path.'
This was music to Prudhomme's ears. 'It's the fresh air we were hoping for, with a team that has taken exemplary measures,' he said.
Gerdemann's T-Mobile team - formerly called Telekom - has been damaged more than most teams by doping news and was therefore forced to clean up its act.
Jan Ullrich and Bjarne Riis, both of whom won the Tour while wearing the Telekom jersey, were either seriously implicated (Ullrich) in doping or have confessed to it (Riis).
In addition, on Saturday, as Gerdemann was fighting for the most important victory of his young career - and, perhaps, the most important stage victory in recent Tour history - race officials said that they were annulling the 1996 Tour sprint championship of Erik Zabel of Germany.
Zabel, who has confessed to doping, today rides for Team Milram, but in 1996 he was a leader for the Telekom team.
As if addressing Zabel and his disgraced generation, Gerdemann said that 'we must show people that cycling can be a sport without doping. But it is certainly not with the old school that we will evolve.'
Gerdemann was not the only good news in the Tour's first week. If the young German was it's media star, the sporting hero was Swiss Fabian Cancellara.
The rider for the Danish Team CSC (which was managed by Riis) won the opening prologue and then held on to the race leader's yellow jersey for one week before Gerdemann took over for one day.
On Tuesday, Cancellara stole a victory that has already been declared legendary.
As the sprint specialists were jockeying for position in the main bunch of riders with less than one kilometre to go, Cancellara burst out of the pack and surged powerfully towards the finish line. One of the sprinters who took off after him was Zabel, but Cancellara was too strong.
Tall, handsome, perpetually smiling and only 26, Cancellara also lent the Tour a fresh image while he wore the race leader's yellow jersey.
For one week, he and Gerdemann made it easy to forget the fact that the 2006 Tour winner, Floyd Landis, may soon be stripped of his title because he was found to have used synthetic testosterone to win a vital stage of last year's race.
Cancellara and Gerdemann represent the sport's, and the Tour's, future. The race now has two weeks remaining to show how close, or how far away, that future is.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur