Monday, July 30, 2007

Tour de Farce

The Tour de France thought it was doing a fair job of handling the growing chorus of doping rumors targeting Lance Armstrong and had hoped in 2006 to lay them to rest with his retirement from racing. Then came word that the winner that year, Floyd Landis was charged with doping. Those charges left him at the curb when he wasn't allowed to participate in 2007.

The race began this year in London on July 7 and UCI and tour organizers must have let out a large sigh of relief then. The first week of the Tour's 94th edition belonged to sprinters and interesting crashes within the pack including a "dog-hit-and-crash." Things quickly raced towards disaster when Patrik Sinkewitz was found to have tested positive for male testosterone in a sample taken while he was training in June.

This past week, as the race was heading towards the finishline, all it took was 48 hours to turn the race and whatever "honor" the Tour had, upsidedown. Alexandre Vinokourov, a pre-race favorite was found to have had a banned blood transfusion. Cristian Moreni of Italy tested positive for male testosterone and both racers and their teams packed up and ran, leaving the police to raid their hotels for doping products.

Just five days before the finish, with the race still reeling from ousters, race leader Michael Rasmussen was the bombshell they never expected. His Robobank team accused him of violating team rules by lying about his whereabouts in the months before the Tour, to avoid drug testing. On the last day of his racing, teams from France and Germany refused to start the race with him, opting to stay at the line as he rode away.

From all the scandal though, some young riders emerged victorious. Alberto Contador, 24, riding for the American Discovery Channel team become the youngest rider to win the tour since Jan Ullrich did in 1997. Until Rasmussen was booted, he seemed destined for a solid second place finsish and his only goal he said was to take home the white jersey for being the best young rider.

The organizers of the race were at the throats of the UCI, the governing body and several groups have declared the race "dead" from this year's scandals. There may still be years of rumors about Lance Armstrong but that is all they are..... rumors, he never failed a drug test while he was competing. This year, it was more than rumor... it was a proven fact.

This is a race loaded with history, a challenge that few can meet and it is a shame to think that it may never recover from this year's doping cases. It is a shame as well, that the young riders coming up, ones who may not be considered true champions because of the team pull-outs this year, may not have a chance again to race for the glory of winning the Tour de France.

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