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Sports minister promises clean 2008 Tour with tougher anti-doping measures

French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot vowed on Monday that the 2008 Tour de France would be "clean and renovated," likely with tougher sanctions for doping, unannounced hotel room searches and other measures to avoid a repeat of this year's Tour, scarred by doping and tainted by suspicion.

A day after the finale of the 94th edition of the race, in which performance-enhancing drugs appeared at times to be the sole focus, Bachelot met with Tour officials to plan a new beginning for the world's premiere cycling event.

"We have laid the first stones of a reflection that will give us a clean and renovated 2008 Tour," the minister said at a news conference.

Patrice Clerc, head of Amaury Sport Organization which organizes the Tour, said that next year's race will be the first step in rebuilding high-level cycling, where doping is known to be pervasive.

"The 2008 Tour will not be like the 2007 Tour," Clerc said. "I commit myself to that."

The route of the 2008 Tour is to be presented Oct. 25.

A 24-year-old Spanish rider for Discovery Channel, Alberto Contador, won the three-week Tour on Sunday but only after the man expected to win, Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen, was expelled by his Rabobank team, accused of having lied about his whereabouts before the Tour to evade doping controls. Rasmussen vehemently denies the accusations.

It was the biggest in a handful of expulsions that also saw crowd favorite, Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov, forced out along with Astana teammates in the final week when he tested positive for a banned blood transfusion after winning the 13th stage.

On Monday, Astana fired Vinokourov, who claims his innocence.

Later Monday, the Saunier Duval team announced that Spanish rider Iban Mayo initially tested positive for the endurance-boosting EPO during a rest day in the final week of the Tour and was suspended by his Saunier Duval team. A second test is needed to confirm the initial result.

"We must be without pity in the fight against doping," Bachelot said, adding that she plans to propose tougher laws to fight it.

The minister noted French law limits what the government can do, pointing out that while substances are banned by sporting authorities, if purchased legally, individuals can keep many of the drugs in their hotel rooms and transport them.

"We must increase synergy between the sporting world, the justice and the police," she said, allowing for unannounced searches of team hotel rooms, for instance.

The officials, who also included Tour director Christian Prudhomme, French Cycling Federation chief Jean Pitallier and a representative of the French anti-doping agency, dwelled on the deteriorating ties between Tour officials and the International Cycling Union.

The UCI was blamed for not telling the Tour that Rasmussen missed tests long before the Tour. Organizers said they would have prevented him from starting had they known.

Bachelot said she is looking to reopen dialogue with the organization.

"We have to resolve this difficulty," clarifying legislation, she said. But ties between the two sides should not be "totally broken," she said. "I want to be the facilitator of dialogue."

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