New faces, cleaned-up image for Tour de France on eve of 95th race
Rhetorical question posed on the eve of the 95th Tour de France, which begins Saturday in Brest, at the tip of the Breton peninsula: Wouldn't it be surprising if cycling, for so long the poster child of pharmacologically jacked-up sports, turned out to be cleaner than, say, the NFL, or the NHL, or Major League Baseball?
My point is, far more than any of the above-mentioned sports, cycling is making a comprehensive, good-faith effort to clean itself up. This great purge is motivated less by some lofty sense of sportsmanship than it is by the desire to
Could it be that these spindly-armed men have learned their lesson? Don't look now, but the sport that made blood bags, testosterone patches and erythropoietin a part of the national discourse is having a pretty good year. Of course, a spectacular relapse is always possible: with these guys, you can
Cycling is trying to get clean. It was trying so hard, in fact, that last year's Tour de France imploded under the weight of several doping-related scandals. Even as
Conducting this so-called "third-party testing" for Garmin and Columbia is the Agency for Cycling Ethics, which puts together detailed "longitudinal" profiles of each rider -- hematocrit and hormone levels, and the production of new red blood cells. Should testers notice fluctuations from those baseline levels, red flags go up. Doing much the same thing for CSC is Danish anti-doping expert
UCI anti-doping manager
It's proven to be good business: Over the course of 10 days last month, in one of the worst economies in memory, Vaughters, Stapleton and Riis all saw their teams land multi-million dollar title sponsors.
More encouraging, still, is the fact that the clean teams -- I should say the
That grand tour was won, incidentally, by Astana's
Despite winning the 2007 Tour de France, the gifted young Spaniard cannot be described as the defending champion of that race, its grandees having decided to exclude the team, based on the
So, despite the fact that the team has all new riders and is under the new management of
An editor opposed to covering this year's Tour made the point that "no one knows who the riders are."
My reply: "Isn't it great?" Vino and Chicken and Floyd are in retirement, or a prolonged time-out. The old guard is fading. Stepping up are teams like Garmin; guys like Lampre's
"We have to do something [to help] people believe in us.
"We can go fast," he said, "in a clean way."
This year's Tour will go fast -- not as fast as in the past, but still plenty fast -- in a
One caveat: No one would be surprised if the UCI, now in a nasty feud with ASO, decided to release the news of a positive test or two sometime over the next three weeks.
But even if the governing body does drop a "July Surprise" on the Tour, there's no denying that this sport is getting cleaner. If you've been away, Saturday would be a great time to come back.