Le Tour

The Tour de France has been crazy this year. I’ve been doing my usual thing of watching the stages live, which in Canada means from 6.00am to 8.30am on Versus. It’s a far cry from good old SBS back in Oz, since the Americans deem it necessary to show 3mins of ads for every 5mins of bike racing until the last few minutes of the stage.

Cycling gets lots of bad press for having a serious doping problem, and the run-up to this year’s Tour was no exception. The good news is that a serious effort is being made to clean up the sport and the word is now out that doping is definitely not going to be tolerated any more. Teams are making riders sign contracts which commit them to not doping, the UCI is requiring teams to promote an anti-doping stance, and to fire any rider caught doping, and they’re also requiring the riders to commit to not doping, and to agree to surrender a year’s salary if they test positive. The latter provision may not be enforceable, but there’s no doubting that the pressure is on.

The sport is now in a transitional phase, with the young, up and coming riders perfectly aware that doping is not permitted at all, but there’s still been a few big doping stories in the Tour which are dragging the sport’s name through the mud again, and embarrassing many who are trying to turn things around.

T-Mobile have spent the last year revamping their team after revelations surrounding Ullrich, Riis, Zabel and others who have passed through the team over the years, and have been at the forefront of the anti-doping push. Halfway through the Tour it turns out that one of their riders, Patrick Sinkewitz, tested positive for testosterone before the Tour started. Strike Three.

Pre-Tour favourite, Alexander Vinokourov, has been criticised for working with Michele Ferrari, a known proponent of EPO, though he claimed he was working with him solely for his training nous. Vino had a shocker of a start to the Tour, with a bad crash leaving him with up to 30 stitches in each knee, but he produced a barn-storming individual time trial result to make up some lost time. Yesterday it emerged that he’d tested positive for blood doping after that stage. Strike Two.

While watching today’s crucial Pyrenean stage at the ungodly hour of 4am, news hit the wire of another positive from Stage 11. That rider turned out to be Cristian Moreni of Cofidis, whose team must have been mortified, as they’d just signed up to be founding members of Mouvement pour un cyclisme crédible (MPCC) the day before. Strike Three.

Finally, before the dust had even settled from that announcment, it emerges that the Tour leader, Michael Rasmussen, has been sent home by his team, Rabobank, and fired, for lying to them about his whereabouts in the run-up to the Tour. Rasmussen has been under fire for the last two weeks after it emerged he’d missed some out-of-competition drug tests because he wasn’t where he told his national association he would be. He claimed he was late filing the paperwork, and that he’d been in Mexico training (his wife is Mexican), but it turns out he may have been in the Dolomites all along. He hasn’t tested positive, but his team aren’t taking any chances. He’s been under suspicion for a while, and his cover story is starting to unravel, so he’s gone. Strike Four!

So, there have been three guys during this Tour who performed above and beyond – Rasmussen, Vino and Discovery’s Alberto Contador. Only one is left untainted. It would appear that Occam’s Razor still applies in the cycling world…

On a positive note, no pun intended, the times they are a changin’ and soon we can look forward to cyclists grimacing in pain as they struggle up the Col d’Aubisque unassisted.