Thursday, July 26, 2007
At least the scenery is still spectacular
By Jim Caple Page 2
The latest scandal from the Tour de France? Turns out the dog hit by the T-Mobile rider tested positive for Kibbles 'n EPO. Naturally, the dog is fighting the result, claiming his urine sample was tainted because the testers mislabeled the fire hydrant.
Meanwhile in real Tour news, with no rider apparently capable of preventing Michael Rasmussen from winning the event, the race leader abruptly was kicked off his Rabobank team Wednesday. So if you're scoring at home
The leader of the 2007 Tour has been thrown out of the race.
The winner of the 2006 Tour, Floyd Landis, tested positive for performance enhancers and is awaiting an arbitration decision on his case.
The winner of the 1999-2005 Tours, Lance Armstrong, never tested positive but a recently published book nonetheless claims he took performance enhancers (an allegation Armstrong vehemently and litigiously denies).
The winner of the 1998 Tour, Marco Pantani, is dead of a cocaine overdose.
The winner of the 1997 Tour, Jan Ullrich, retired this year after being banned from last year's race in the Operacion Puerto doping scandal.
The winner of the 1996 Tour, Bjarne Riis, recently confessed that he won the race while on EPO and other performance enhancers.
That about covers it ... wait, no, almost forgot. The pre-race favorite to win this year's Tour, Alexandre Vinokourov, was kicked out of the competition Tuesday after testing positive for blood doping.
Other than that, the Tour is in fine shape. Did you see the Versus network had some spectacular scenery from the Alps and Pyrenees stages?
What a mess. Rasmussen was so comfortably in the lead after winning the 16th stage Wednesday morning that when he broke away in the final kilometer, Versus broadcaster Phil Liggett announced, "Michael Rasmussen is free to fly and will win the Tour de France."
Or maybe not. Hours later, officials with Rasmussen's Dutch Rabobank team announced they were him kicking off the squad for violating its rules. While that means Rasmussen won't win, it also means that he accomplished the even more difficult feat of getting kicked off two teams from two countries during the same Tour (the Danish national team dumped him last week).
The announced reasons for the dismissals are basically the same: Rasmussen failed to let officials know where he could be located earlier this year (as required) for random drug testing. The timing, however, leaves reason to suspect there is more behind the decision. After all, sponsors invest millions to compete for the publicity the Tour brings. Why then drop your top rider when he was days from winning the sport's biggest prize just for violating team rules? That's like the Cavaliers kicking LeBron James off the team just before the seventh game of the NBA Finals because he broke curfew. And if Rabobank was suspicious of these things last month, why did they let him ride in the Tour?
This is only the second time in the Tour's history that a rider was thrown out while leading the race. In 1978, Michel Pollentier was expelled after he was caught trying to cheat the urine test on Alpe d'Huez with an early version of the Whizzinator.
Which tells you three things:
1. Doping has been a problem in cycling for a long time (it actually dates back to the early days of the last century when cocaine was used as a stimulant).
2. Tour officials have been trying to catch dopers for a long time, far longer and more strenuously than American sports leagues have.
3. They haven't come close to solving the problem.
I love the Tour. I love the history and the geography. I love watching the shots of the riders climbing the towering mountains. I love listening to the Versus broadcast team. I love the dedication, endurance, athleticism and pain thresholds the riders display over the three weeks. I love getting on my bike after the broadcasts and racing away as fast as I can, pretending I'm breaking away from the peloton as I struggle up my own modest slopes.
And before this Tour began, I wrote that despite cycling's many scandals in the past year, I still was excited for and eagerly awaiting the event. Just this Monday I wrote a couple paragraphs praising Vinokourov for the way he had fought on through injury.
I don't feel embarrassed about that any more than do people who eagerly anticipate a football season when they know that sport is dirty as well (one reason cyclists get caught so often is because they are tested so often).
Mostly, I feel depressed and saddened by the latest scandals. And worried that the Tour's very future is in jeopardy.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans" is on sale now.