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July 25, 2007

Cycling: is it really an example of a failed sport?

Well what a silly couple of days in Le Tour. Firstly pre-race favourite Alex “crash lots then stage fightback then crumble then stage another fightback” Vinokourov fails a blood test and gets both him and his team kicked out. Then after Cofidis form part of a protest to not start racing for a bit, one of their riders fails a drugs test and promptly gets himself arrested and his team kicked out. Now race leader Michael “I’m not a drugs cheat, I just forget where I am a lot” Rasmussen, having just won today’s stage, has been sacked by his own team for being dishonest about his whereabouts. And that’s before you mention the ongoing sagas of last year’s Tour de France “winner” Floyd Landis and this year’s Giro d’Italia “winner” Danilo Di Luca.

It’s laughable that something that considers itself to be a sport can be so ridden with competitors artificially enhancing their bodies. But I’m not going to go and have a rant about how drugs are bad and the riders are nasty people, as that would be too generic. Cycling, at least, is actually trying to something about it – it’s just so disorganised and haphazard. The incentive is there for riders to keep cheating, and with the money floating about you can hardly blame them.

No, instead I look at sports like baseball and golf. Baseball has probably the most apathetic testing system of any sport, and golf the laziest (i.e. it doesn’t even have one). Why should people stay clean when for such little risk they can reap massive rewards by injecting blood or other substances into their system?

Cycling is again looking very bad. For the second year in a row its showpiece event leaves a bad taste in the mouth because its main stars have been shown to be cheats. And I can see the trend continuing, because as the system sorts itself out more and more people will be caught out, until a new generation of cleaner riders prevail and then positive tests become the exception rather than the expected.

As for baseball, how can you possibly compare the achievements of Barry Bonds, who has been dogged by the BALCO scandal, to Hank Aaron? It’s more than noticeable that Marion Jones, since the BALCO details have come to light, has been running at best average and more accurately plain crap.

Some thought that when German TV ceased transmission of le Tour in protest at the pre-event failure of a drugs test by another rider it was an overreaction. Some today felt that the refusal to start cycling by the teams campaigning for cleaner cycling was an overreaction. Yes this is another Tour de France which is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but it’s not because cycling is a sport which isn’t trying to clean itself up. It just is playing catch-up from having not taken it seriously enough.


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