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Conference on doping in cycling opens against backdrop of recriminations

PARIS — Cycling risks becoming "a travesty" and "a fraud" if it doesn't unite to fight doping, the sport's top official warned at a conference Monday that brought together the sport's severely divided leadership.

International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid, who has been criticized by Tour de France and anti-doping officials, urged colleagues to move past their recent sniping and recognize that the sport's survival is at stake.

"We are here because we share a common determination to stamp out doping in our sport," he said. "There's been so much background noise in recent years, the fact that we all still agree on one major objective is a good start for this meeting.

"Either we fix this beyond doubt or cycling as we have known it — in all its glory — will become a travesty of a sport, a fraud for the public, and a shame for us in this room."

Team doctors, health officials, French police, anti-doping authorities, and sport regulators and administrators were on hand for the two-day conference.

Noticeably absent — at least for the opening — were riders. None was on hand, and the one who had been scheduled — British cyclist David Millar — pulled out for personal reasons, organizers said.

The meeting was organized by French Health and Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot, who has sensed the fallout of doping on the Tour de France and wants the differing sides to fight cheats.

"The first thing I'm expecting is to show how cycling can be at the forefront — voluntarily — in this area, and rebuild the image" of the sport, Bachelot told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. "We want to make this summit a sort of pilot project for the fight against doping, which will be useful for the entire sports world."

High on the agenda is a proposal by the International Cycling Union, UCI, made last week to set up medical profiles — a so-called "biological passport" — for riders based on blood and urine samples.

Cheating has dogged cycling for years, but this year more than most. Among the incidents at this year's Tour, leader Michael Rasmussen was sent home for missing prerace doping checks, and prerace favorite Alexandre Vinokourov was expelled for testing positive for a banned blood transfusion.

Floyd Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour title last month — though he is appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport — after he tested positive for using synthetic testosterone to fuel a dazzling comeback.

Many in the sport have traded accusations over who is to blame.

McQuaid is scheduled to sit on a panel Tuesday with World Anti-Doping Agency head Dick Pound and Patrice Clerc, who heads the company that runs the Tour — two men who have been sharply critical of the UCI over doping.

"I'm expecting people whose presence is indispensable, and who, for some time have hesitated, grumbled, or refused to talk with each other," Bachelot said. "They have lost the habit of working together."

Associated Press Writer Jean-Luc Courthial contributed to this report.