Pro cycling is no stranger to scandal
The Tour de France, cycling's most prestigious race, has been around since 1903, and endured its first scandal in 1904. That year saw the top four overall finishers and all stage winners disqualified and banned by the French Cycling Union (UVF - at the time the national governing body). Sounds bad enough as scandals go, right? But this happened after the organizer of the Tour threw out nine other riders for some sort of cheating (the Wiki entry doesn't specify all the infractions, but does note that at least some were for hopping trains).
There are parallels to more recent scandals as well. American cyclist Floyd Landis was disqualified and banned for two years after having won the 2006 Tour; a decision on Landis' final appeal is expected this June . Last year saw the leader thrown out by his own team after being suspected of doping.
The recent struggles for control of racing have a 1904 precedent as well. Then the Tour organizer disciplined riders as he saw fit, expecting that to be the end of the story. Several months later the UVF opened its own investigation, and on its own authority banned many of France's top riders. This led to a war of words between the governing body and the Tour organizer over who had jurisdiction over a private race.
The UVF's actions may have been an opportunity to claim jurisdiction over all aspects of French cycling (warning: speculation alert). Just as the US Supreme Court used the case of Marbury v. Madison early in the nation's history to establish the principle of judicial review over all branches of the federal government, it may be that the UVF used the controversy to display and cement its authority over the totality of French cycling.
Does all this maneuvering sound familiar? This year saw the Court of Arbitration for Sport refuse a request from a group representing several professional cycling teams for injunctive relief against the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the group (ASO) that stages many of the world's premier races - including the Tour de France. In this case the ASO was on the side of the pro teams despite being lumped in with the UCI. The UCI and ASO have been squabbling for years over power and money. In fact, it seems that the professional season requires a controversy before it can "officially" begin.
As for what the riders banned by the UVF in 1904 were guilty of, no one seems to know. The Wiki entry mentions illegal agreements but offers no evidence. A cycling historian is tackling the subject for his thesis; his judgment will be written up and published, hopefully as a book along the lines of Cod, or Close to Shore - books which include plenty of historical context about the events they describe. The story as known is written up by cycling's premier journalist, the International Herald Tribune's Samuel Abt.