French media mourned the Tour de France on Thursday while the country's prime minister said dopers should be severely punished following the series of drugs scandals that have hit the troubled race.
"The death of the Tour," Liberation daily said in a front page headline, adding: "Stop this circus!"
"This cycling procession has transformed itself into a caravan of ridicule," the paper said in an editorial.
"If the organisers really intend to save cycling, they should stop the competition. And decree a pause of several years -- the time to heal these ex-sportsmen who have become drug addicts."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on a visit to Senegal, said he backed the efforts to clean up the Tour.
"I support the organisers of the Tour de France because they have the courage to get rid of the cheats," he told reporters.
But elsewhere, reaction was more bitter. France Soir daily transformed its front page into a fictitious death notice for the Tour, saying its 'father' Henri Desgrange, the Tour's founder, and its 'grandchildren', several former winners of the competition, were in mourning.
"The death of the Tour de France, on July 25, 2007, in Orthez, at the age of 104 years, following a long illness. The funeral will be celebrated in the strictest privacy."
The Tour began Thursday's stage without Danish race leader Michael Rasmussen after he was sacked by his team Rabobank, who said he had lied about his training location in June.
Rasmussen's sacking was the latest blow to the Tour, coming after the announcement of positive dope tests on pre-race favourite Alexander Vinokourov and Italy's Cristian Moreni.
"There are people who are cheating. They must be punished in the severest possible way," Prime Minister Francois Fillon told RTL radio, adding the fight against doping was one of his government's priorities.
"There are controls. Some people are caught red handed, who are punished. Of course, this gives a disastrous image to the Tour de France and to sports.
"But at the same time, if you encourage the organisers, you will clean up French sport and cycling in particular," he said.
"La Grande Boucle" ("The Big Loop") is an institution in France with millions following the race on television and radio or in the towns and villages the peloton passes through en route to the finish on Paris's Champs-Elysees.
(additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry in Dakar)