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German TV pulls coverage over Tour doping

In the first move of its kind by any of the broadcasters that cover the Tour de France, German state television channels ARD and ZDF left the race on Thursday and, for the time being, stopped covering it, after a positive drugs test on German cyclist Patrick Sinkewitz.

Nicolas Brender, the head editor of ZDF, said: ”We cannot show an event with teams and riders who are suspected of doping.”

The broadcasters, which cover the race jointly, have been a massive presence at the race since 1997, when Jan Ullrich gave Germany its first win in the Tour. They had thought long and hard before covering this year’s race after Ullrich’s implication in the Operation Puerto blood-doping scandal and revelations of doping by German cyclists in recent months.

The German cycling union, the BDR, said this week possible signs of abuse of the male hormone testosterone had been detected in a urine sample taken from Sinkewitz while he was training with his team in the Pyrenees last month.

Analysis of the B-sample will take place if requested by the cyclist within four days. The 26-year-old, who has now been suspended by his team T-Mobile, was forced to pull out on Sunday after a freak accident in the Alps and is presently in hospital in Hamburg.

The broadcasters’ decision was criticised by the German, Linus Gerdemann, whose stage win on Saturday had temporarily revitalised Germany’s passion for the Tour.

Gerdemann said: ”The controls are working, they are catching guys, so I’m sorry that [the TV stations] are going. If the B-sample is positive, then that’s sad and completely stupid. Playing with his job and his employers is not tolerable.”

T-Mobile is the biggest sponsor of professional cycling and its â,¬14-million team includes British riders Roger Hammond and Mark Cavendish. The company will examine its future in the sport this summer.

The positive test, if confirmed, would be damaging for the team, which was relaunched after Ullrich’s ejection from last year’s Tour. T-Mobile put the emphasis on young riders, revamped management, an ethical charter and strict internal dope testing.

However, Sinkewitz is the second rider in ”New T-Mobile” to face the sack: the team fired time-triallists Serhiy Honchar this season after tests showed abnormalities in his blood.

The round of doping scandals has made massive waves in German sport. The running of this year’s world road-race championships in Stuttgart is in doubt after the federal government said it might rethink its sponsorship, while the International Rheinland-Pfalz, a major stage race, is also in jeopardy and one newspaper, the Berliner Zeitung, refused to cover this year’s Tour.

The sponsor of the country’s second professional team in the Tour, the Gerolsteiner mineral water company, had described its future involvement as ”50-50” at the start of the race. — Â

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