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Doping is always part of Tour de France story

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) – A scene from “Godfather III” about sums up where the Tour de France is with doping as the 2017 edition begins on Saturday.

In the movie, Al Pacino’s character Michael Corleone laments that his efforts to become a bona fide businessman are being undermined by his family’s underworld connections. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,’’ he wails.

Likewise, cycling’s showcase race seemed largely to have extricated itself from the swamp of widespread blood doping that characterized Lance Armstrong’s era. The 12 riders banned or provisionally suspended by cycling’s governing body, the UCI, in 2015 and 2016 for using blood-boosting agents like Armstrong were largely second-tier. Just one, France’s Lloyd Mondory, had previously raced in the Tour – in 2009 and 2010 when Armstrong was still competing.

But just four days before the 2017 edition gets rolling in Duesseldorf, Germany, came a reality check.

The UCI announced that Andre Cardoso, a seasoned pro who was to have raced in support of 2007 and 2009 champion Alberto Contador in his quest for another Tour title, tested positive for EPO, a hormone banned because it stimulates the production of oxygen-carrying blood cells.

EPO was also part of Armstrong’s doping armory when he cheated his way to seven Tour wins from 1999-2005. Those victories were subsequently all stripped from the Texan, who has been banned for life, leaving the sport and the Tour laboring under corrosive clouds of suspicion.