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08/01/07
Dope, Dopers, Doping
Filed under: general
Posted by: The Cyclofiend @ 7:36 am

Le Tour wrapped up over the weekend, and unless you are pathologically averse to media coverage of any kind, you know it was marked by a few, um, “issues” during the race.  I won’t recount them here, but suffice to say that when a team sacks its lead rider, while that rider was in the Yellow Jersey, you know things are kinda stressful.

So, you guessed it - this is my obligatory entry wondering about the fate of the Tour, and whether pro cycling will make it through all of this.  I’ll assume that you have enough familiarity with the events of the last few weeks so that this will make some sense. 

There’s been a hunk of hype and hyperbole, erratic statements and bemoaning of the state of things cycling. Headlines in mainstream news sources have openly wondered whether the Tour would survive.  I think this is the easiest question to answer.

Of course it will.

Much of the world is not as Breaking News obsessed as we are. While many people (and most in the media) are focusing on the minutae and microissues, there are many, many more people around the world who  keep it in perspective that the Tour is over a 100 years old, that it has survived world wars and scandals as bad as this.  The people who keep the Tour alive first saw it from atop their parents’ shoulders when they were children, as their parents did before them. The Tour, in a word, is bigger than all of this. There may be good years and bad years, less interesting winners and madly compelling stages, but the true popularity of this event plays out over decades, not days.

As far as the characters involved…well, I’m both niavely optimistic and directly offended. Let’s get this on the table first - the riders would use bicycles built from the bones of their parents while riding on tires from the skin of baby kittens if they thought it would help them win. It is - as has been endlessly observed - an extremely hard and painful sport. These are driven and competitive folks and the differences between the first and the last at their level is really miniscule and the majority of them will never stand on a podium. Every edge is analyzed just to keep them racing and doing their jobs.

As with most prodigies who show talent and physiological gifts, they also operate in an extreme bubble. Many of them, and I say this with love, aren’t smart enough to outwit tire irons. I really, honestly believe that some of riders who have turned up positives in years past had no clue until the UCI let them know.

But, the marquee names who now turn up a couple of positive samples sorta piss me off.  (Actually the “no! no! no! I didn’t!” denials before public admission anger me more…) Finding two kinds of blood in your system isn’t the result of someone adding something to your salad. As much as Vinokourov may have animated past races, or rode in the memory of his fellow Kazakh training partner, he seems to have made an extreme error of judgement. (Sure, if the tests are rigged, we ought to know that too, but that’s another issue…)  What I think we’re seeing is the last thrashing of hooked fish before they are brought onboard and thumped on the head. 

Although I do wonder what the clean riders on the expelled teams had to say to the causes of their forced exits…

Obviously, I really enjoy racing.  (I mean, do you do this if you don’t?) As I’ve written before, it’s opera played out on the grandest scale, with nowhere for the actors to hide their pain, efforts, enthusiam or suffering. This year, there’s nowhere to hide the errors in judgement and the results of a path started years before.  But, cycling and The Tour will survive all of this, and it is my sincere hope and belief, will end up stronger for it.

4 Responses to “Dope, Dopers, Doping”

  1. beth h Says:
    I’m sure the Tour will survive. What is less certain is who will control it, and in so doing control the big money in European bicycle racing. I’m anticipating a cage match between ASO (the company which owns and produces the Tour and I think the Vuelta as well) and the UCI (Union Cycliste International), the world governing body of bicycle racing. They appear locked in a power struggle that has led ASO officials to publicly speculate about a 2008 Tour to which the UCI won’t be invited or admitted. The Tour is bigger than the UCI. It doesn’t need the UCI’s sanction to exist as the passion play it is, and has been for over 100 years. (Just My Humble Opinion, of course.)
  2. akatsuki Says:
    One of the reasons doping was in the news is that they were busting people for it. It is not like they are turning a blind eye like in other sports like american football, baseball, and even the olympics (and boxing, tennis, golf, etc.) One can only hope with sponsors threatening to pull their sponsorship of doping riders and the tour being aggressive on the enforcement front that things will get cleaner. I don’t believe for one second that the riders that turned up positive didn’t know what they were doing…
  3. The Cyclofiend Says:
    >beth h
    ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) owns/runs Paris-Roubaix (personal fave), Tour of Qatar, Paris-Nice, Le Critérium International, La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and others, in addition to other sports. They also own L’Equippe newspaper. Yep, they are a big honkin’ juggernaut and there’s a lot of money at stake…

    >akatsuki
    Don’t think I said that particularly clearly - I was mentally shifting time-frames without actually being specific with my words. I think there was a period when the bulk of racers simply bent over and took the injection, and let the team doctors worry about “making it work”. I don’t think that excuses it at all, but reflects a wider acceptance (see Dave Moulton’s post to this topic). Now, even though it’s pretty clear that the tests are good, when the “name” riders do it, it’s even more of an egregious act.
  4. Bruno Says:
    Any reading of Tour history shows that the race has been designed from it’s inception to defeat the riders. As the business of the competition grew to include better rewards for the riders, and greater publicity for team sponsors, the need to go beyond natural ability in order to seriously compete became commonplace. It wasn’t even discouraged in any meaningful way until fairly recently. The roads have all been paved but the race has maintained its level of difficulty throughout. I think the race needs to be redesigned to push riders to the reasonable limits of natural strength and endurance before we can expect to see doping become the rare exception amongst the contenders.