Readers who have followed this blog and it’s predecessor, the SCMO Fishing News, know that I’m a big cycling fan. For me, the only day that can rival the first marlin of the season is the first day of the Tour de France. Since that’s tomorrow, I was excitedly preparing to write my own analysis of LeTour for the MarlinBlog.
Then came this morning’s headlines. Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Francisco Mancebo – the riders who finished second, third and fourth behind Lance Armstrong in last year’s Tour – have all been banned from this year’s race because of their role in a ongoing doping investigation.
Blood doping has been a problem for professional cycling for many years. With no way to gain any sort of technical advantage through equipment, the only tool that can be improved is the cyclist’s body. With each of these athletes tuned to their peak, those who still lag can only turn to cheating.
In this case, a Spanish investigation that started several months ago has touched nearly 60 riders, including one entire team. Ever since the Festina scandal in 1998, Tour officials have taken the hard line on doping – you don’t have to be proven guilty, you only need to be accused. That’s the same path they’re taking here, and you have to respect their desire for a clean race. But, wow – what a shocker!
Ironically, it was the emergence of Lance Armstrong in 1999 that was credited with saving Le Tour after the Festina team was tossed off the Tour in 1998 in what was the largest doping scandal to date. Now, in the sport’s first Tour since LA’s retirement, doping once again rears its ugly head. How this will resolve itself remains to be seen, as it is likely there will be additional expulsions.
One thing is for sure, though – this year’s Tour is off to a wild start! I’m sure it’s give us a lot to talk about between now and July 23, when those who remain pedal the cobblestones of Paris.
UPDATE: The team I mentioned above as having nearly all of its riders under suscpicion, Astana-Wurth, has withdrawn from the race, including Alexander Vinokourov, last year’s fifth place finisher. So now the top 5 from 2005 are all out – unbelieveable!