Doping in the Tour
The 2007 Tour de France is winding down, and is frankly a complete mess. The culprit, doping. Or, the appearance of doping. Yesterday was Stage 16 and the scene of a great battle on the Col d’Aubisque. After the stage Rabobank withdrew and fired the maillot jeune of the tour. Only days prior to that Alexander Vinokourov failed a test and was expelled from the tour, along with his entire Astana team, after blowing up the individual time-trial and beating the entire field.
Last year we had OperaciÃ³n Puerto which ejected many riders from the peloton. This years Tour seems comparable to the 1998 “Tour de Dopage” when doping scandals riddled the Tour and just over half of the riders that started finished the race. The 1998 doping scandals caused a permanent footnote to Armstrong’s first Tour win in 1999 since many riders were suspended from the race.
Let me be clear, I think doping in cycling is a scourge and it needs to be remedied. I also completely believe that doping is prevalent in many sports, and I give cycling credit for being serious about doping. I would expect that more cyclist are caught doping than any other sport, I would expect that is largely the result from actually testing and doing something about it. Athletes in other sports dope. This isn’t a cycling only problem. Viva la Tour!
There are many things that concern me about the current state of affairs. Take a look at Rasmussen. He never tested positive for anything. But, he did miss doping controls and allegedly lied about his location saying he was in Mexico when really in Italy riding in the Dolomites. Boom, he’s out. Why? Because Italy is where all the dirty doctors are. And riding in the mountains in Italy means you must have been doping. And, he did an amazing time trial so he must be doping. Couldn’t he also have just had a really strong day?
Additionally, lab tests are done with an A and B sample. If the A sample tests positive, you are out. The B sample is somewhat irrelevant because even if you test negative on the B sample your already gone. And where are these labs? France. It’s no secret that the French have an axe to grind, particularly with non-French riders.
On top of all this cycling tests are typically not tests of the substance, but the effect. For example, if your blood count is too high you are out. There is no detection of a drug, just the effect.
This all leaves cycling in an utter mess. It leaves fans in a state of confusion and dismissal. And nobody has a good answer. There is a growing theory that the leaders of the Tour must be doping, because if anyone in the peloton is doping you must be doping to beat them.
Cycling could decide to follow American Football and Baseball and make some token gesture on doping but really just let everyone do whatever. The problem with this is frankly cyclists will start to die! This isn’t a new problem, in 1967 Tom Simpson died on the climb of Mont Ventoux after taking amphetamines. The trouble with adding red blood cells is that your blood literally gets thicker, and combined with maximal effort you can simply die. If doping were just allowed I have no doubt deaths would follow.
There was discussion a couple of years ago of working with the pharmaceutical companies to add tracers to drugs so that they can easily be detected. This of course will just create a black market for drugs without tracers.
It seems the only solution is more testing. But cyclists are already pushed to the brink with random drug tests. They occur all year long, are completely random and are mandatory. Representatives show up at riders hotels on vacation in February for immediate tests. Brutal.
Today there is no maillot jeune in the Tour. Tour tradition compells riders to not wear yellow unless they earned it. It’s a rare stage indeed where there is no maillot jeune on the road. Tomorrow Alberto Contador from Team Discovery will pull on the yellow jersey, but forever with question marks. I still really enjoy this sport, but I hope that we can see a clean and uninterrupted tour soon.