Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tour de Dope

I've been a fan of the Tour de France for many years. I'm talking way before Lance came on the scene. I remember watching ABC's once a week coverage for an hour or two on Sunday's when Greg LeMond beat Laurant Fignon on the tour's final stage in 1989 to win the Tour by 8 seconds.

Each year, as summer approaches, I anxiously await the start of the Tour and check out the Versus Channel my nightly fix.

Thinking about this event, it seems to me that these men are some of the best trained, best fit, best athletes on earth. We're not talking about running up and down a basketball court for three hours or even running a marathon. These guys are in the saddle for 5-6 hours a day for 21 out of 23 days. More than 2000 miles are covered as they traverse France. The mountain stages are simply phenomenal. I am a fan.

The 2006 Tour started off with revelations that nine riders were involved with a doctor linked to doping. These riders were not allowed to race. The Tour concluded with Floyd Landis' positive doping test that remains in appeal. As the Tour struggled to confront the doping allegations, 2007 was thought to be a clean start.

Little did we know that the 07 Tour would ultimately be considered one of the low points in sports doping history as two riders tested positive, leading to the withdrawal of their teams and serious questions about the then leader of the race, Michael Rasmussen, missing a number of pre-Tour tests, leading to his shameful withdrawal and ultimate sacking from his team.

I have steadfastly believed that Lance, who has been accused of doping, but has never tested positive, was a clean rider. I really wanted to believe that Floyd Landis was victim of poor drug handling protocol that led to his positive test.

The more I read, the more I watch, the more difficult I find it to believe ANYBODY in cycling. Is it possible that winning the Tour, which seems a super human feat, really IS a super human feat? Since 1977, other than Greg LeMond's three victories and Bernard Hinault's five, EVERY TdF champion has either admitted, confirmed or been suspected of doping.

While we have Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmiero and Mark McGuire in baseball, doping has not overtaken the sport. In cycling, it certainly has. It's quite a sad state of affairs and it's going to kill a very exciting and exhilarating sport. Cycling has to figure out how to clean up it's act before all the sponsors and fans move on. There is no credibility left.

My eldest son asked lots of questions about Rafael Palmiero when he tested positive. We used him as an example of what not to do. We tell him to do what Cal Ripken did -- drink milk and practice. Today, I don't know how to explain a whole sport with a needle in their arm. I was a fan.



LisaDuvall said...

This whole subject saddens me and I'm not even a big fan. I would always get sucked into the Lance Armstrong coverage and felt such a sense of pride when he won.

It scares me to think of my sons and daughter growing up with these role models (not to mention the Paris, Nicole's and Lindsay's of the world). I guess all we can do is what you said - tell them to drink their milk and practice. And set good examples (like you're doing!).

jaybird said...

I, too, used to be a huge fan of "le tour", but this year, for the first time since LeMond's victories, I have not watched a single moment. But, as a fellow cancer survivor and a proud wearer if the yellow bracelet I continue to hold Lance as one of my personal heroes, and I refuse to believe the rants of openly hostile, anti-American and otherwise prejudiced French journalists determined to trash his legacy.

That said I am totally mystified that some of the world's best trained athletes, clean or dirty, continue to be the world's most stupid. What, they thought there wouldn't be any testing this year? Obviously a moment of glory seems to be worth a lifetime of disgrace.

Despite Charles Barkley's claims to the contrary, great, or even just good, athletes do become our role models whether they, or we, like it or not. So here we are at the end of perhaps the worst doping weeek in the history of the sport that seems to have invented "class action cheating", a week that also brought us a famous quarterback running a savage and illegal dogfighting ring, a point-shaving NBA ref, and a juiced slugger on the verge of breaking one of baseball's most hallowed records.

But we will end this week from athletic hell by honoring two of the finest gentlemen who have ever graced their sport. Hopefully there is a message there. Perhaps all is not lost after all.