Saturday, June 29, 2013

100th Tour de France Begins Today (Under Clear Skies but a Cloud of Suspicion)

The Tour begins with three stages in Corsica, a French Island the Tour never has visited before. This year's Tour route is brutal, featuring Mount Ventoux and not one but two climbs up Alpe d'Huez. As usual, the Tour organizers disclaim any responsibility for encouraging cyclists to dope, despite creating a course that virtually requires PEDs.

Meanwhile, an NBC race commentator made the lamest argument I've yet heard for believing that the peloton is cleaner this year: the riders are so outspoken about not doping. If that's the metric, then Lance can't have doped (despite his recent admission) because he was always so outspoken about not doping. By the way, why no discussion in the pre-race show about Lance's call for a "truth and reconciliation" (T&R) panel for cycling? NBC devoted a segment to Lance's disgrace, and notably left him out of the list of previous great Tour champions (most, if not all, of whom doped).

Why are we still pretending that it was a dirty Lance versus a clean sport, when that plainly was not the case (as proved by the fact that no cyclists were named to replace Lance as champion for 1999-2005 because so many of the other race leaders were implicated in doping)? Just yesterday, Lance repeated his call for a (T&R) panel and asserted, quite rightly in my view, that it would have been impossible for him, or any other competitor, to win the Tour in the years he won it without doping (see here). It was probably impossible to do so when Coppi and Merckx (universally acknowledged as the greatest professional cyclist in history) were racing, and it could well be true even today. It's worth remembering that doping in the Tour de France goes back to the very beginnings of the Tour in the first decade of the 20th century (see here).

I suspect the peloton is cleaner overall this year if only because, for the time being, the anti-doping agencies seem to have caught the dope-makers in the constant battle for advantage. Eventually, of course, the dope-makers will create new technologies and masking agents, which will require fresh reactions from the regulators. It is analogous to the battle between computer hackers and security software manufacturers in the world of wired and wireless technology. Finally, just as in this year's edition of the Giro d'Italia, we should expect at least a few desperate riders to be caught doping either during the race or shortly after its conclusion.

But, no matter. It's the Tour de France. We should enjoy it for what it is, and worry less about who is taking what substances either to win or merely to survive what is the most difficult and beautiful bike race in the world.

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