Tour de France and Cheats

So what are we meant to think about the proceedings at The Tour de France this year? To re-cap, we first had T-Mobile rider Patrik Sinkewitz testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone from a test during the beginning of June.
DSC09851
He was immediately kicked out of the Tour, but in Germany things went a little further. The two state broadcasters who cover the Tour also pulled out leaving Germans with no coverage of the event. I’m not sure if I entirely agreed with their position, although it sends a very stark message to German sponsors – particularly T-Mobile who are behind the team with probably the most funding in cycling.
Then more news came out about Tour leader Michael Rasmussen. The maillot jeune had been dropped by Danish Cycling from events including the World Championships and next year’s Olympics.
DSC00318
At the moment the situation remains complicated but it seems that he’s missed a series of random drug tests. Like many athletes, he has to inform the authorities where he’ll be at given times so that they can come to him to test him. There’s a three strikes rule, and he’d missed two Danish cycling appointments as well as two UCI appointments. Normally three together would have been enough, but two pairs of two was suspicious in many eyes.
However the rules did not mean that he could be withdrawn, and despite the Tour organisers’ obvious distaste, they wanted to abide by the rules and weren’t going to kick him out. They made him do a press conference however which he clearly didn’t enjoy.
But the biggest shocks were to come. On Saturday it was the first time-trial of the tour since the prologue in London. Alexandre Vinokourov stormed to victory minutes ahead of the rest of the field. This was all the more amazing since he’d been having a very hit and miss Tour. He started as favourite, but a crash on stage 5 left him with multiple stitches in both legs, and it was then touch and go whether or not he’d be able to continue at all – never mind continue to be a contender.
On the big stage in the Pyranees on Sunday he seemed to have used it all up on the previous day, but then on Monday he was resurgent and stormed to another stage victory. Although overall victory remained unlikely, the Tour’s hard man was showing what he was made of and fans cheered him on.
DSC00491
That made it all the more terrible when on the rest day on Tuesday, news came out that he’d failed a doping test after the time-trial and a blood test had indicated that he had someone else’s blood in his body. His team, Astana, immediately pulled out of the Tour, and everyone was left reeling.
Then on Wednesday, another rider was found to be positive – Cofidis rider Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone.
DSC00024
He owned up immediately and his French team, including British rider Bradley Wiggins, pulled out. This was a particular shame because Wiggins is certainly clean, and obviously still had high hopes for the time-trial this coming Saturday before entering Paris.
But that was small beer compared to what happened next. Wednesday’s stage saw Michael Rasmussen win another stage, blowing everyone away on the famed Col d’Aubisque.
But behind the scenes, Rasmussen’s claims about his whereabouts during some of those missing were seemingly falling apart. He had claimed to be in Mexico yet had apparently been spotted in Italy at the time. Finally Rasmussen’s team, and undoubtedly their main sponsor, Rabobank, decided enough was enough, and even though Rasmussen was leading the race, wearing the famed yellow jersey, he was pulled from the Tour.
So is the Tour dead? Should it have been stopped this year? Is professional cycling over?
I’d answer no to all those questions. It’s certainly going through its darkest moment since the infamous 1998 Tour when doping first really hit the big time. But I genuinely believe that these cheats are actually far fewer than they once were, and cycling is washing its laundry very publicly in getting rid of these people now.
It’s likely that more big sponsors will pull out in the short term, but cycling will come out the better for it in the long term. It’d be unfair to those clean riders to cancel this year’s race now. Everyone’s hoping that nobody else is found guilty, but better we find the cheats than we pretend that they’re not there.
I wonder if every other sport can really claim to be as clean as it might be?