After one of the most turbulent days in its history, the scandal-plagued Tour de France escaped Thursday to Switzerland, where fans clanged cowbells along the route and officials promised there wouldn’t be any late-night drug raids.
But despite the bucolic surroundings, the widening doping scandal continued to claim new victims in the world’s biggest cycling event.
Two more teams pulled out to protest police behavior, and investigators for the first time blocked a cyclist from competing after finding drugs in his possession.
In the morning, there was uncertainty as to whether the race would go on. Many riders, angered at the investigation, had threatened to pull out entirely.
But eventually, 103 cyclists left the French Alpine town of Aix-les-Bains for a 134.5-mile ride through stunning countryside to Neuchatel, Switzerland.
Tom Steels of Belgium won the 18th stage, beating Erik Zabel of Germany in a sprint finish for his third stage victory.
Italy’s Marco Pantani retained the yellow jersey, with Bobby Julich of the United States second and defending champion Jan Ullrich of Germany third.
Shortly before midnight Wednesday, police in Chambery, near Aix-les-Bains, detained Italian rider Rodolfo Massi. They found banned drugs in his room, according to prosecutors in the northern city of Lille, where the probe is centered.
They also found drugs in a truck belonging to the Spanish ONCE team, which dropped out in protest, the prosecutors said. Its doctor, Nicolas Terrados, was detained.
Earlier, two Spanish teams, Kelme and Vitalcio, angrily quit the field, joining two other Spanish teams and an Italian team that quit Wednesday. A sixth team, Festina, was thrown out July 17 after police found performance-enhancing drugs in a team masseur’s car--sparking the current scandal.
Of the 21 original teams, only 15 remain.