Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, has vowed that the peloton set to weave through Yorkshire over the next two days is as clean as it can be – but that eradicating drug cheats completely from cycling is impossible.
The charismatic Frenchman at the helm of the sport’s greatest race on the planet is wise enough to know that cycling imitates life, and that in all walks of life there are cheats.
The build-up to the 101st Tour de France, one that takes on greater resonance for British fans because it starts right here in Yorkshire, has witnessed its fair share of doping stories.
None has been big enough to derail what has been the enormous wave of public euphoria leading up to the race as the White Rose county has prepared to open its arms and put on its best smile for the glare of the world’s media.
But the stories coming out from a couple of the teams that will contest the three-week odyssey beyond England and into France have reminded the world that the sport of cycling is still working, and still has work to do, to move out of the shadow that the Lance Armstrong scandal cast over the sport.
Daryl Impey, the South African rider with Orica GreenEDGE who wore the yellow jersey last year, tested positive for Probecenid after February’s South African Championships.
The news came just days after Roman Kreuziger was made unavailable by Tinkoff-Saxo due to irregularities relating to his biological passport.
That it was the teams who withdrew both men shows a willingness from within the sport itself to cleanse cycling of the stain of doping.
While Prudhomme applauded such action and believes the public can once again trust a sport that just a few years ago they perhaps could not, there is still a long road ahead.
“It’s very often the same before the Tour, you learn things you didn’t know,” he said, in relation to the revelations about Impey and Kreuziger.
“The most important things are what’s ahead of us. I don’t believe that in sport or anywhere in life there are no cheats.
“There are cheats everywhere. In some sports when there are no cheaters then there is a problem, because there are always cheaters. In normal life you have people stealing, thieving – that’s life.
“Cycling has done so many things to improve, but we are in real life. The same is for every sport, everywhere.”
The level of testing in cycling is higher than in any sport, with the amount of positive results at least showing that the testing works.
This weekend’s Grand Départ in Leeds is the latest and perhaps most adventurous way in which the Tour and the sport have attempted to carve out a brighter future for themselves.
Certainly, the reception Prudhomme, the Tour delegation and the teams have received in Yorkshire, is one that has vindicated the director’s decision to bring the race further north than it has ever been.
“We are always very welcome everywhere we go but it’s very, very special in Yorkshire,” said Prudhomme. “When we landed on Monday evening, La Marseilaise was played for us. It was the first time ever we’ve received that.
“We went through the villages, the towns, the cities and everywhere there were French flags, yellow flags, bunting, even a bicycle painted yellow on a crane at 30 metres high next to Millennium Square. It’s unbelievable. I feel the Grand Depart will be humongous.
“In Yorkshire, you have all the venues for the Tour, magnificent hotels. You have what is very important for me, the landscape, and a stunning backdrop.
“When we chose Yorkshire, having the first British rider win the yellow jersey was important but the most important thing was passion.
“And you have passion. You (the public) are a mirror for what is the Tour.
“For you, you are proud to have the Tour and we are proud to have you and Yorkshire as the Grand Départ.
“I have had many dreams about the Tour Grand Départ in Yorkshire but now I feel it will be even greater than a dream.”
Asked if a successful hosting of the Grand Départ and the two stages of racing this weekend would result in a swift return, Prudhomme only laughed.
With so many nations, cities and regions bidding for a slice of the Tour de France pie, the race’s most authoritative voice cannot be seen to be showing favourites.
But it is clear that ever since Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity flew him via helicopter over Yorkshire’s stunning scenery two years ago, he has been smitten.
Now that the build-up is over, Prudhomme is confident the cyclists can play their part in what will be a thrilling weekend.
“For stage one, the last 60 kilometres is made for the sprinters and stage two, it’s many, many climbs made for the contenders for the overall classification,” he said. “(Saturday) is for the sprinters with Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel – who knows who will win?
“Stage two, I don’t know. It has been made for the attackers. If you remember stage two last year, Chris Froome attacked into Ajaccio. I hope for the same ‘wow’ factor on Sunday because the stage is made for that. I think it will be a great battle.”