So once again the Tour de France has been dogged by drug controversies, with the media bleating that the Rasmussen & Vinokourov incidents were the worst things t0 happen to the tour since … since … well, since last year.
Most people will know that last year’s winner F Landis (not to be confused with Homer Simpson’s neighbour, Ned) tested positive after a Pegasus-like comeback in the mountains. But even before last year’s tour began, several of the favourites – Ulrich, Basso – were booted out on the eve of the race. This year’s winner Alberto Contador was implicated in the same investigation but has thus far escaped sanction.
Hopefully these recent high profile doping cases mean (a) the tests for cheats are getting better and better; (b) the cheats are being caught and (c) potential cheats will be thinking twice before doping up in future. Or does it?
Interestingly, I read during the week that only 4 samples are tested after each stage – the stage winner, the Yellow jersey holder and two random riders. From a field of around 200 this is hardly comprehensive. By my calculations a rank and file rider who doesn’t win a stage has less than a 1 in 4 chance of being tested during the tour. This doesn’t seem sufficient.
The Tour is looking at introducing 4 year bans for riders testing positive (double the current penalty) and is already fining cheats a year’s salary if caught. Seven figures sums in many cases, so not to be sneezed at.
Despite the controversies I found the tour compelling viewing. Wakes and I had a great time watching the two London stages in person (or at least as much of the stages as we could see from 3 deep with riders flying past our vantage point at around 55 kph), and we watched most of the other stages on TV. (The Portuguese commentary was a bit hard to follow for the week we stayed in Portugal – note to self, must work on Portuguese). The scenery, the drama, the tactics, the incredible physical efforts, the history, and of course the fantastic performance of Cadel Evans in coming second all contributed to a fantastic event. If even one of those athletes is clean, it is an incredible effort just to finish.
I spent a fair bit of time reading the Tour de France forum on the SBS website, and many of the contributors expressed similar sentiments – the Tour itself is a unique, passionate, dramatic, gripping event, and fans are willing to keep up their interest, despite the drugs crap, in the (maybe naive) belief that eventually the sport will clean itself up. Let’s hope so.
Attention now turns to catching up on the sleep debt that has accumulated during the tour. Roll on next year, and onya Cadel.