Daryl Impey: First drugs setback for Tour de France before it starts
South African cyclist Daryl Impey, who has previously led the tour, tested positive for Probecenid
Two days before Yorkshire hosts the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, the cycling world is reeling from yet another doping controversy. The news of Daryl Impey’s positive test for Probecenid arising from the South African Championships has cast a shadow over the start of the world's most famous cycling race just when it hoped it was recovering from the damage caused by Lance Armstrong.
Impey is no middle-of-the-road rider. In last year’s Tour de France he created a little piece of cycling history by becoming the first African to wear the tour leader’s yellow jersey, but he has been withdrawn from Saturday’s first stage from Leeds to Harrogate by his Orica-GreenEDGE team.
Chris Froome, the defending champion, counts Impey among his former teammates. The Kenyan-born Briton expressed his bewilderment at the turn of events. "That is massive news in cycling [and] it’s always harder when you know the person on a personal level," said Froome, who rode with Impey for Barloworld in 2008. "He has always been very outspoken against doping so it is a big shock to me."
Admitting that he sent Impey "a message" when he heard of the positive result, Froome added: "I hope things get resolved. Obviously I don't really know the details of the case. I don’t know if it is something that can be resolved on his side or if it is 100 per cent definite."
Impey’s positive test, which comes just days after Roman Kreuziger was stood down by the Tinkoff-Saxo Team because of alleged irregularities in his biological passport, is further proof that cycling still has some way to go before it can declare itself a clean sport. Froome was subjected to a whispering campaign in last year's tour after a series of superb performances but reiterated he plays by the rules. "For me personally, my integrity is extremely important to me," he declared. "It is a shame that with cycling’s past we find ourselves in this situation now. But the only way we’re going to move on from it is to accept what has happened. Get it all out there. And then move on – show people this is not how it's done any more."
Froome, who’ll be leading a Team Sky squad without the 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins, is hoping to win a third consecutive title for Britain but he sees his biggest threat coming from Spain’s Alberto Contador, who was himself banned for taking an illegal substance during the 2010 Tour. "I feel Contador is my biggest contender at this point," said the 29-year-old Froome. "He’s had a great build-up, but it is not a two-man race."
Froome can expect to receive a rapturous welcome in the first three stages of the Tour, which take the peloton from Leeds to Cambridge to London. "To come in as defending champion and to have that home crowd behind you is second to none," said Froome. "To have that kind of send-off at the beginning of a three-week race will put us in a great position."