Thursday, 9 August 2007

Tour de France : world event or joke?

How will the 2007 Tour de France be remembered? In twenty years time will we look back on this Tour and see it as an exciting, close battle, or as the race where a favourite failed a doping control test and the yellow jersey wearer was kicked out? Can we look back on this 94th edition as the turning point for the sport to clean itself up? Drug controversies are nothing new to the Tour. Right throughout its long history, the race has been tainted by it – take for instance the 1967, 1977, 1988 and 2006 editions. Remember Floyd Landis last year. He lost his yellow jersey too.

Comparing the 'Festina Affair' of 1998 with this year's race highlights, a noticeable change in rider attitude which can give us hope. Both races saw riders protesting – but for different reasons. Following the expulsion of the Festina team, riders felt that the government led police raids were a violation of their human rights.

This year's protest by several teams following Alexandre Vinokourov's positive blood test highlighted that the riders too are getting sick and tired of this issue. And isn't it the riders who can make the biggest difference?

Cofidis' Bradley Wiggins noted that those who have failed tests in recent times were – in general – riders in the twilight of their careers. The British rider is confident that the current young crop of riders coming through – the very future of cycling, have a completely different mindset to doping. Let's hope so.

David Millar isn't quite as positive as Wiggins when discussing the problem. Millar –who served a two year ban himself for using EPO – does believe that cycling is heading in the right direction, but it could take between 'five and ten years' to achieve the objective of a clean sport.

It's obvious that some teams are fed up with the bad publicity the sport is receiving. Professional cycling is big business – teams can employ up to 70 staff, multi-million sponsorship deals fund squads. All of this is jeopardized by those who choose to break the rules. But is suing the answer? Will it stop the cheats? Will it stabilize the sport?

Prior to the start of the Tour, all competing riders had to sign a UCI charter declaring that they would ride clean and not violate any anti-doping rules. Breaking those rules would result in a two year ban and loss of their 2007 annual salary. But it seems the loss of wages and a lengthy ban just isn't enough to stop doping. So what is?

What the doping scandals did reveal in the 2007 Tour was just how bad the relationship is between race organizers ASO, and cycling’s governing body, the UCI.

In a time when all need to unite together in the fight against drugs in cycling, it was very disappointing to see both parties looking to try and score political points off each other. For the sport to clean up its act, strong leadership is required.

Hard to understand is - despite all the scandals -, the Tour seems to gain popularity with the crowd. Strange how a human brain works.

Also in my opinion - for a big event like the Tour - there should be preventive doping tests. Those who fail don't get to race. Simple as that. But that's just my opinion.

There was the rising of a new star in this years tour too. The young Spanish rider Alberto Contador - who won eventually after the kick of Rasmussen - is the young talent to watch for the future. IF he did it "clean" of course. And stays clean.

So do we have reason to be optimistic? I think so. However there is still much work to be done. But maybe in twenty years time we will look back on this year's race and see it as the turning point in winning the battle against drugs. Who knows?