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World Cup pride lingers

Tour de France scandal troubles few

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Posted: Wednesday July 22, 1998 06:26 PM

  It's been a rough time for the Tour, starting with the World Cup final interference and the Festina's doping scandal, but athletes are still pedaling the curves AP

PARIS (AP) -- The decorations are down, but pride in France's World Cup victory runs deep. As for the doping scandal that has imperiled the Tour de France - a treasured national institution, not a soul in Paris seems troubled about that.

It's been a rough time for the Tour ever since its July 11 start, which organizers moved to Ireland and delayed by a week to avoid a collision with the World Cup final.

The doping scandal broke out even before riders reached French shores, and the 75-year-old race hasn't recovered the elan that has made it the country's premier summer sports event.

French politicians, including President Jacques Chirac, have lashed out against doping, a practice cycling organizers concede is extremely difficult to detect.

However, French people seem to have no illusions that athletes, from cyclists to soccer players, may use drugs to enhance their performances.

"Coruption. Doping. The Tour de France has always been like that," said Sean Marie Veldeman, a construction worker. "Frankly, it doesn't interest me a bit."

Yves Olariat, a motorcycle delivery man, felt the same way. "I could not care less about the tour," he said.

A poll in Monday's edition of the France-Soir newspaper showed 72 percent of those queried said doping could not be justified, and 84 percent said the practice should be banned because it tarnishes sports in the eyes of young people.

But only 51 percent were shocked to learn that some cyclists on the tour used stimulants, and 47 percent weren't surprised at all.

The poll was conducted July 17-18 by the well-known IFOP polling agency among 1,001 people. Polls of this magnitude in France usually have an error margin of plus or minus 2-3 percent.

The lucrative tour does interest businesses, the primary sponsors of the teams, and French newspapers, which have kept the scandal on the front pages for a week already.

France 2/3 television, which broadcasts daily about five hours of the tour, much of it live, was unable Wednesday to say whether viewership had fallen as a result of the scandal.

Tour organizers also said they didn't know yet whether attendance was off.

"The tour doesn't matter to me at all. It happens every year," said Jad Matjoub, a French student of Tunisian origin. "It's the same thing over and over again."

But Matjoub couldn't stop talking about France's soccer triumph and the team's multi-ethnic composition in a country where 15 percent of the electorate regularly vote for the xenophobic National Front.

"It gives us a lot of pride," Matjoub said. "You still feel the excitement. It was so unexpected."

Tour fans will have a chance to see the race again next year, but it will be a long time before France experiences a thrill like the World Cup again.

"It was a month of excitement," said Veldeman, the construction worker. "Now, it's just the same old routine."


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