Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tour Delivers ?

It's clear reading the papers, the cycling sites, and all the respected news outlets that there are only two ways to look at this year's Tour- either a complete disgrace in need of major reworking for next year, or the obvious end of the sport.

Of course, it's true that no amount of cheating can be tolerated in sport. Once you tolerate it, the whole underpinning of sport is taken away. However, clearly not all cheating is equal. Doping (especially in cycling), point shaving in sports that are decided by a point system, hoping on a bus in a marathon- these are all unforgivable. Doping in football and baseball is clearly forgivable, however- you have Bonds, McGuire, and other be-muscled home run freaks in baseball. In football, remember you have to test positive twice before you are even suspended for four games, and no announcement is made as to why a player fails a test. In triathlon, Nina Kraft failed a test after winning in Kona, yet somehow the Ironman soldiers on gamely.

Naturally, taking this kind of attitude clearly ignores the frequency with which doping comes up as an issue in the Tour, which has simply had too many doping scandals. This year was especially shocking after the last few years, when a steady stream of doping incidents took out Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich (the only one of the bunch earning a double-raspberry for also dabbling in recreational drugs), and finally Tour 'winner' Floyd Landis. It was expected, well, maybe too strong a word- hoped- that 2007 would be the year the peleton rode clean, and I think that media started beating the 'now or never' drum so loud, so early, that they roundly believed this was the Tour's last hope, and in some cases I get the impression that certain sports writers can't heap enough dirt on the sport fast enough, just so they can get rid of it.

Which is not to say that the positive Vinokourov test wasn't shatteringly bad for the sport and an indication of a serious problem. The other two positive tests hardly seem to be on the same level as this one. Vinocheatkov won two stages and tested positive after BOTH of them. The Rasmussen thing is a different mater as UCI and Rabobank both dropped the ball on this one. If he'd been banned before the start of the tour, articles about how the Tour was 'decapitated by doping' would not have embarrassed the race AND the sport- and to be fair, these articles were unfair in that Rasmussen didn't actually test positive. Did he dope ? Maybe, probably, almost certainly. But the only crime anyone has on him right now is being a great big danish ass.

Morale in the peleton was low and that's probably a better indication than the all the ink and photons wasted on slamming the sport. Clearly cycling has a huge problem it needs to deal with, but I think the hundreds of thousands of spectators who caught the Tour live, the millions more who tuned in, are saying that they still love the sport- and in its last day, it delivered a massive time trial that had the real drama cycling fans want- 3 riders separated by a scant 31 seconds. This was not like the Lance years. The Tour's winner was in doubt yesterday until Levi crossed the line, Cadel crossed the line, and Contador crossed the line. The Tour was, in the end, unpredictable and exciting, even thrilling, when the talk was about the race and not the doping.

I still find it hard to believe that so many competent sports writers seem to be excoriating cycling while turning a blind eye to other sports. There's an old joke about what the only thing dirtier than field is- track, of course. BALCO was more than Barry Bonds, Bonds is just the largest, most well-known product. And the lid is starting to come off regarding the steroid problem in football- Dr. James Shortt admitted prescribing banned substances to several Carolina Panthers, including Todd Sauerbrun- the punter for christ's sake, the punter ! It might seem unbelievable that a punter would use steroids- but Sauerbrun was the strongest and for two years the top-ranked punter in the league- and also one of the most unstable, with 'aggression issues' including on-field and off-field outbursts.

I think the Tour has to answer these doping questions to the best of its ability and the sport needs to give cthe Tour the tools it needs to have a clean event. At the same time I think it's also time to stop kicking cycling while it is down and instead look across the sports spectrum.

Start by doing something, something serious, about Barry Bonds !

No comments: