While dopers fall, battle waging for coveted podium spot

Updated: July 26, 2007, 5:06 PM ET
By Bobby Julich | Special to ESPN.com

[Editor's note: Bobby Julich filed this diary before Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen was pulled from this year's Tour de France.]

DRESDEN, Germany -- I would like to be able to just talk about the Tour de France and actual bike racing, but we had another cyclist, Cristian Moreni, test positive at the race.

What did these guys think? That they weren't going to test riders this year? Did they think officials were going to let things go? Many of us have made major efforts to improve the sport's reputation and many of us play by the rules. But again we're seeing some people make stupid decisions.

I thought that's what we were supposed to be doing since the Festina scandal in 1998, but I guess it's a tough mentality to break. While I was racing Wednesday in Sachsen Tour, a few guys in the peloton said to me, "Maybe it will take a few more years to weed them out. It's not going to happen overnight." Well, why can't it?! It's an open-and-close situation. We can't stop now. We've got to keep our gloves up and keep fighting. If not, the sport will just plunge back to the dark days of rampant drug use.

Bobby Julich Diary

More Bobby Julich diaries from this year's Tour de France:

July 24: Vinokourov news is hard to take
July 23: Pyrenees ... and beyond!
July 21: Ready for the mountains? It's all 'Bull'
July 20: Getting 'test' call scary, but worth it
July 18: More doping? I just don't get it
July 17: Vino suffering, but race not over

Everyone is looking at us and saying, "These guys are nuts!" But you have to realize that the tests we take really are random, and really are carried out, and people really are penalized. As a sport, we're transparent; we're making the effort. We are putting fear into these riders' hearts and minds through the process. I think we need to take this fight all the way to the finish line. It's not worth the risk some of these riders think it is.

I also realize some have criticized the independent testing some of the cycling teams, like my own CSC, are implementing with their programs. Some say, "Oh, they are just doing it for the press." No, it's not just an internal thing. We are tested at least once, maybe twice a month with out-of-competition tests. And we're not just tested for blood values; we're tested for steroids, blood transfusions, EPO, all of that. We can give up to three vials of blood for each test along with urine samples.

This is not just smoke and mirrors, this is something to tell riders that they can't plan around these tests to cheat. This kind of independent testing needs to be applied to all cycling teams. It will only hammer home the message that no one should try to beat the system.

Now, back to the race!
Before the Tour started, someone asked me if I thought the Tour was a climber's race. I said, "Absolutely not." Well, Michael Rasmussen is proving me wrong. He is in the driver's seat toward winning his first Tour and he is not your typical Tour champion; far from it.

We really got spoiled with Lance Armstrong because he could do it all -- time trial, outsprint in breakaways, climb with the best of them. It's infrequent to see a King of the Mountains jersey-wearer also wearing yellow at the end of the race.

But with this fiasco around him, I am not really too happy to see Rasmussen in yellow. I think a reason why he's still racing, even after the missed tests, is because he's wearing the yellow jersey. Maybe officials were trying to save the race? Well, the race is damaged nonetheless. If someone else missed those tests and they were not in the yellow jersey, or if the missing tests were exposed before the race started, that person would not have been put on the start list.

Podium in Paris?
I was really happy to see my CSC teammate Carlos Sastre really take the race by the throat and risk everything in Wednesday's Stage 16. Carlos' situation is similar to Levi Leipheimer's -- they've placed in ninth or 10th in the Tour, but never made the podium. In the end, Carlos lost time to Levi and is fifth overall; I wish the two of them would have paired up for an attack in this last mountain stage of the Tour.

I think Levi's own stage attacks Wednesday were to provoke a reaction and disturb the rides from the Rabobank team, who were reeling in Rasmussen. We call it a "boomerang" attack -- throw it out there and if it works, good; if it doesn't, it comes right back.

If you're going to attack at this point, Levi had to look more decisive and commit 100 percent. But he didn't look like he was committing 100 percent, which is understandable; he didn't want to lose too much time in the overall classification (Levi sits fourth overall, less than a minute behind third-placer Cadel Evans).

Now, with Rasmussen and Alberto Contador your likely 1-2 finishers, the most exiting duel will be for the final podium place in Paris. It will be a drag race between Leipheimer and Evans because there's a big difference between third and fourth at the Tour. While 99.9 percent of cyclists would kill for fourth overall at the Tour, it's a difficult place to finish. You're so close to having your face in that famous end-of-Tour podium picture. Leipheimer and Evans have battled around the top 10 for years, so third place would be great compensation for two of the sport's more consistent riders. But if you finish fourth, that doesn't mean you've had a bad Tour!

Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing a diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won the Paris-Nice race in 2005.

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