Cycling could use shot in arm
If drug testing is in the news again, then it must be time for ... the Tour de France?
What timing. The same week that the stripping of the title from 2006 winner Floyd Landis was upheld, they start pedaling away furiously on a new Tour — and reputation — tomorrow in Brest.
Sport's most grueling test of geography and man's endurance — 21 stages covering 2,200 miles this year — has been more defined of late by laboratory drug testing. The Pyrenees being less imposing than Court of Arbitration for Sport. The headlines in recent years have referred more to doping agencies than actual riders.
And that's too bad for just when Landis, an American, seemed to have given the Tour the heroic, inspirational episode it needed to cleanse itself from years of scandal, his tale turned out to be too good to be true. His triumph in the Alps said to have come from a syringe rather than heart and competitive desire. It added fuel to all the doubts about the results and whispers surrounding champions of years preceding him.
So, symbolically the new route, beginning tomorrow with a 121-mile segment in Brittany at France's most western point, is supposed to represent a much-needed new start for the event. It comes complete with a rare full road stage for openers rather than the more traditional time trial.
Such are the most visible lengths the Tour knows it must go to break with the immediate past and rediscover, as organizers have wished out loud, the romanticism that once made it a sporting fixture.
For never in its now 105 years from inception has the Tour seen anything like the shame of late. Last year a race leader, Michael Rasmussen, was sent home for dodging a drug test. A favorite tested positive for a banned blood transfusion.
Journalists in France were going through garbage cans looking for used syringes. Once-reverent spectators screamed accusations. Sort of like watching a peloton of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens ride past.
Now governing bodies have come to demand so-called "blood passports" from participants for months. Tests said to provide a blood archive of participants, the better to spot sudden changes and signal doping possibilities. Teams — the ones organizers have let into the race — have stepped up their own testing of team members.
The fallout has been felt in other sports. Now even golfers are subject to testing. Hardly the legacy to sport the Tour had hoped to provide.
Some 189 of the best — and, maybe, this time the cleanest — riders in the world start competition tomorrow. Hopefully, by the time they've completed their counter-clockwise run through France in Paris they will have also left a measure of the Tour de Shame behind.
Now, that would be something to bask in under the Arc de Triomphe.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8044.