I woke up this morning to the nasty news that this year’s Tour de France is completely wrecked by the Spanish doping scandal, with the two front runners — Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso — both withdrawn due to a cloud of implication hanging over their heads.
While I despise doping in athletics as much, if not more than the next guy, the waves of scandal blowing over professional cycling are getting very tiresome. Lance couldn’t win a Tour without the European press dredging up some whiff of EPO doping. Tyler Hamilton’s career is in ruins — but his Athen’s olympic gold medal secure. And now the greatest cycling event of the year is trashed by the withdrawal of the two favorites.
Well, off to the Tivo to watch the prologue out of Strausbourg, more hope of George Hincapie to rise from the ranks of Lance’s lieutenant to a leader in his own right, but all without two of cycling’s greatest riders participating. This Tour has already gone down in history as one with an asterix next to it, similar to the 1998 Tour which was rocked by the Festina scandal.
Doping in cycling goes way, way back into the 50s and 60s, when riders chowed down on amphetamines to keep themselves going through three week grand tours. When the British cyclist Tom Simpson died on the slopes of Mt. Ventoux — his last words were “put me back on my bike” — and found with pills in his pockets, the sport began to take notice.