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Riders urged to cooperate to lift doping taint

By Keith Weir

LONDON (Reuters) - A lobby group campaigning to clean up cycling has invited riders to back a plan it says could remove doping suspicions undermining the sport after the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

"The assistance we are seeking from the riders will be to put in place a system that will guarantee that the winner of the major tours has not blood doped," said doctor Michael Ashenden, a leading anti-doping campaigner.

"It's a short-term intensive approach that will restore public confidence in the riders and the race outcome," Ashenden, an expert on combating blood doping, told a news conference organized by "Change Cycling Now".

Ashenden gave no further details of his proposal but said he had briefed Gianni Bugno, president of the riders association, with a view to its swift implementation for next season.

Cycling has been in crisis since Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles after the United States Anti-Doping Agency accused him of being at the center of an organized doping conspiracy.

"Change Cycling Now" has called for Pat McQuaid to quit as head of the UCI, the sport's governing body, accusing him of failing to root out doping.

American Greg LeMond, who won the Tour in 1986, 89 and 90, said he was prepared to serve as an interim head of the UCI.

"I would do whatever I can to help change the sport," LeMond told the news conference.

"I would love to be part of the process to change (the sport) and if that means an interim presidency, I would be willing to do that."

SUSPICIONS LINGER

Bradley Wiggins, who rides for Team Sky, became the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012.

Team Sky has a zero tolerance policy towards staff members with a doping history and Wiggins angrily dismissed doping-related questions en route to his Tour triumph in the summer.

Ashenden said he was not accusing Wiggins of any wrongdoing but underlining the credibility issue the sport faces.

"That would be a remarkable day, when a rider can stand up and say "I won and you know that I didn't dope", blood dope, I need to be specific there," he said.

"The unfortunate reality is that everything that a rider can say today, Lance Armstrong already said. The reality is, no matter what a rider says, there is going to be doubt," he added.

"Change Cycling Now", comprising former riders, journalists and anti-doping campaigners, has been put together by Jaimie Fuller, an Australian who is chairman of the SKINS sportswear company, a cycling sponsor.

Fuller said he had approached more than 10 current cyclists about the campaign but they were afraid to speak out.

"The vast majority were intimidated about what could happen to them if they stuck their head above the parapet and were critical of the UCI," he said.

LeMond, who had long been critical of Armstrong, said he had also been the victim of intimidation.

"I personally dealt with the threats, I dealt with the amount of money that he had to destroy people," he said.

Dutch Rabobank pulled out of sponsoring a professional cycling team in the wake of the Armstrong scandal and there are fears other companies could quit.

"He's done a lot of damage to cycling. It was a false bull market for cycling," LeMond said of Armstrong.

(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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