Dolor de France

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PARIS: Dieu merci for the World Cup. As this year's Tour de France wilts under a barrage of midnight drug raids and cycling teams' quitting in protest, TIME Paris bureau chief Thomas Sancton says, France's successful staging of the Coupe de Monde is saving the nation from cultural humiliation and putting the blame for the fiasco where it belongs: on the rotten state of international cycling. "The whole thing just stinks," he says. "The intense nationalism, the publicity and the big-money sponsors have pressed riders to achieve superhuman feats, and many have turned to performance-enhancing drugs."

Sancton says this year's Tour may not reach the finish line. But the race's lone moment of nobility, a protest slowdown Wednesday in which all the riders coasted through the leg in sympathy with teams that had been up all night with police, could serve as the inspiration for the sport to unite against its demons. Says Sancton: "I think they'll all get together -- the riders, the coaches, the sponsors -- and agree that if the times are a little less spectacular, so be it, but the sport has to be returned to a natural footing."