Angered by the drug scandal that has dominated cycling's premier event, Tour de France riders protested Friday by delaying the start of racing.

For two hours, the cyclists deliberately stayed off their bikes and milled about."We are fed up with being treated like cattle. So we are going to behave like cattle," Laurent Jalabert of France told Radio Tour, the station that follows the race.

Jalabert, the world's top-ranked cyclist the past three years, led the demonstration before the 12th stage, which was eventually won by Belgium's Tom Steels.

"The sport is no longer interesting to anyone," Jalabert said. "We won't cycle and that's the end of it."

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc helped negotiate the start to the stage in a meeting with team directors.

The scandal has haunted the Tour since its July 11 start in Ireland. Armin Meier, a rider for the banned Festina team, became the first Tour de France cyclist to admit taking the banned drug EPO, a hormone that increases the red blood cell supply.

"Yes, I said that I had taken EPO, how I took it and why I took it," he told France Info radio. "I'm just the victim of a system."

Meier refused to say if his teammates had also taken the substance, and he criticized police treatment of the riders.

"I feel a little like a criminal," he said. "Each rider had two police officers. They put me under pressure for four or five hours. They took everything. I undressed. They could see all of me. I went into a cell with a wooden bed. . . . But I feel better inside because I have told the truth. Perhaps it is good for the sport."

The 148-member pack finally began racing 10 miles from the official starting point, and two hours after the official starting time.

Steels won the 137-mile stage from Tarascon-sur-Ariege to Cap d'Agde in southern France, his second stage victory of the Tour.

Jann Ullrich of Germany held a 71-second overall lead over Bobby Julich of the United States after Friday's stage. The Tour is making its way across southern France before hitting the Alps on Monday.