Friday, June 30, 2006

Tour de Dope

There is an interesting development in the run-up to this year's Tour de France. The two odds-on favourites, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, both have been suspended after being implicated in a Spanish doping scheme. This was probably the best year for both of these men to lay claim to the Tour title now that Armstrong is retired. But now that is gone and the field is wide open.

As a former bike racer, I know a fair amount of inside dirt about the prevalence of doping in the sport at the highest and not-so-high levels. In fact, I've seen guys jabbing needles in their ass just before the start of a race. Let's just say, it is one of those well-known dirty secrets within the sport but which the official organ of the profession, the UCI, and the media refuse to publicly recognise or acknowledge. The legend of Tom Simpson dying on the slopes of Mt. Ventoux in 1968, jacked up on dope, is looked upon as some lost, dark and sullied age. Hardly. The dope is just so much better today and the doctoring of the pros now has achieved levels of professionalism that continues to confound most dope testing. I am always amused when the top guys get nailed and everyone professes shock; oh no, they wail, those bad apples are giving the sport a bad name.

For example, Basso's team director, Bjarne Riis, '96 Tour winner and a man known as Mr. Sixty Percent within the pro ranks (referring to his hematocrit level, likely jacked up as it was by EPO), said this about the current situation,
It is difficult for us to believe what is happening. I never had any kind of indication [Basso was involved].
What Riis probably finds difficult to believe is the fact that Basso actually got caught. I expect the doctor will be looking for a new job.


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