By CRAIG TIRIANA
Bay of Plenty cyclist Julian Dean is feeling as up and down as the Swiss Alps.
It's to be expected, given New Zealand's lone cyclist in the Tour de France has slogged his way through more than 2500km of road and nearly three weeks in the saddle.
But as if that's not enough to sap anyone, news that yellow jersey leader Michael Rasmussen became the third high profile cyclist to be kicked out off this year's "Tour de Farce" or "Tour de Pharmacy" has reduced the straight-talking New Zealand road champion to a rare uncertain state.
"There's a lot of different emotions from different guys," the professional with Credit Agricole said from France last night.
"It's been quite different for everyone ... I try to just get on with my job and not really think about it too much. It's not really anything I can control, there's not much I can do about it but I sort of feel a little bit mixed up."
While it's good that riders are being caught out, it also brings the sport and its athletes down, Dean says.
He has previously ridden for the high profile CSC and US Postal teams during his 10-year career and said he'd never been asked to be involved in any type of doping.
The Credit Agricole organisation is understood to be one of two teams to have fully complied with the UCI's recent regulations to sign drug-free charters prior to the Tour de France.
Dean says if anyone from his team returned a positive test, they would be fired immediately and have to pay back a year's salary.
"It's really heavy - in what other job when you do something wrong do you have to pay back a year's salary?"
The statement begs the question: why would anyone risk the penalty, given cycling is obviously working on stamping out and shaming the cheats who sour the sport?
There's a long, considered pause. "I'm not really sure how guys come to be in that situation ... you know you're going to be tested, all I can think is that they got away with it in the past and they still think they can," Dean offers.
Credit Agricole's sponsorship runs out in 2008 and Dean says given the current environment surrounding the sport, attracting new backers was nearly impossible.
"There's a lot of disagreement amongst the management of the teams in how it should be dealt with and that fuels the fire as well.
"There's not really much cohesion between the teams, race organisers or the UCI.
"Controls have become stricter, there's a lot more testing, more in training, more in competition but also it's something the media has picked up on."
Dean understands the negativity the news carries. It was the lead sport story over most of the world this week but he's adamant it's not only a scourge among athletes on two wheels.
"You can't begrudge people for feeling [anti-cycling] ... last week for example, in athletics there were three positive tests ... cycling had two as well but you'd think cycling was worse [given the media coverage]."
In a lot of minds, maybe that's an indication cycling is no longer burying its head in the sand while projectiles are being stabbed into the sport's well-pricked buttocks.
Dean is still a fan of the world's great race. He will be spurred on to the finish in Paris by the people who are still flocking to cheer on the peleton.
"The people out there on the road is what gives the Tour de France its spirit and soul ... that's what makes it great."
- France's Sandy Casar, riding for the Francaise des Jeux team, picked himself up after crashing into a stray dog to win the 211km 18th stage from Cahors to Angouleme today.
Discovery Channel's Alberto Contador retained the yellow jersey with a 1min 50sec lead on Australian Cadel Evans, and 2:49 on his American team-mate Levi Leipheimer.
Contador, Evans and Leipheimer will each go into tonight's penultimate but decisive stage, a relatively flat 55.km time trial from Cognac to Angouleme, with a chance of winning the race's yellow jersey.