Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tour de farce

Celebration or arrest?
In the Tour these days, it is sometimes hard to tell.

Ignominy is the order of the day at the Tour after both Vinokourov and Tour leader Rasmussen were yanked from the race; Vinokourov for a failed dope test and Rasmussen, after the discovery that Rasmussen had been in Italy when he had informed the UCI that he was in Mexico with his wife. Rasmussen missed to two dope tests over the course of two years but insisted that he had been staying in Mexico. UCI officials had been unable to locate him.

This is beyond grim for the Grand Boucle. AFP notes that the European press have written of the Tour as a farce and that "the Tour is dead." Histrionic, perhaps, but not far off. Year after year of doping scandals, the first major bust in 1998 with the Festina affair, has ultimately cast the Tour as a drug-addled joke. Of course, the Tour was drug-addled before this long string of bad publicity. But it was not generally viewed as a joke. It wasn't until bad press led to some diligence in dope testing that problems -- major levels of doping -- were being publicly exposed. How else to view the recent admission by Bjarne Riis that, in 1996, he was jacked-up to the gills winning the Tour and passed every single drug test administered?

This may kill the Tour, if not technically, at least spiritually. I just don't see how major sponsors, who used to crawl over one another to sponsor the Tour, will continue to back this, unless they have the "there's no such thing as bad publicity" mentality. And I'm not even sure the fans really wanted to know. I know I couldn't have cared less. Doped or not doped? Who cares? Ride, bitches! They and I just enjoy watching a good race, however that comes about. Unfortunately, rather than a test of pure athletic ability, tactical and strategic planning and a tuned training program, the race, indeed, the sport itself, is also a battle of drug regimens and clever doctors.

And that is the shame of it. The amounts of money that some of these riders have spent just to remain competitive is enormous and a serious financial burden on the non-stars. This doping problem also led to a performance gap, as the best paid figures had no concerns about the cost of whatever drug regimen was the order of the day. Not so for the domestiques, who struggled with an enforced "habit" just to remain useful in a given race. Ultimately, the problem with the fact that everyone is doped is that it doesn't change the rankings or results too much from the way things would shake out without the dope. The races would be just as exciting, if perhaps a couple of kph slower. The whole effort is a colossal waste of time and effort when everyone is jacked. Doping, at this point in the sport, does not gain advantage. All it does now is help riders keep up.

Lately, I have found myself less and less inclined to tell people I used to bike race, fearing that what I will hear will be the question that now seems most apropos,
Did you ever take drugs?


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