The cyclists could hardly miss the signs along the rain-slicked country roads of the Tour de France.

"Ride clean, and we love you," one banner said. "Say No to EPO," said another, referring to the performance-enhancing drug a number of riders have acknowledged using.

While it tries to shake free from a drug scandal, the race goes on. Jaan Kirsipuu of Estonia won the first stage of cycling's showcase event.

Kirsipuu, who rides for Casino, won after a final sprint by the pack, edging Tom Steels of Belgium and Erik Zabel of Germany.

The overall leader remained Lance Armstrong, the Texan who won Saturday's prologue by seven seconds in his first Tour de France since overcoming testicular cancer.

The 124-mile stage began in a downpour in Montaigu in France's western Vendee region. The rain eased but then returned, making for a soggy start to the three-week race.

The stage was marked by a long breakaway by France's Thierry Gouvenou, who left the pack at 48 miles but was overtaken by Ludo Dierckxsens. The Belgian was overtaken just before the final sprint. Since the pack arrived together, the riders finished with the same times.

As the race began, director Jean-Marie Leblanc referred to the scandal that overshadowed last year's event. He said cycling is presented with a new opportunity and has three weeks to rehabilitate itself.

Race organizers have announced that spot drug tests will be taken in the coming days.

CAPTION: Texan Lance Armstrong, right, rides with the pack during yesterday's first stage; he leads in his first Tour de France since overcoming cancer.