Patrick Sinkewitz's positive A test for testosterone produced a predictably shrill reaction in the Tour's start village in Tallard this morning. Journalists scurrying about the T-Mobile team bus like ants around leftovers from lunch, fans craning to hear what was being said, general pandemonium...
The only bystander who seemed oblivious to it all was Cofidis's Cristian Moreni, too busy playing a twenty-minute set of tonsil tennis with a woman who I can only hope was his wife or girlfriend. Moreni almost missed the start and, after that little tryst, was probably in danger of topping even Sinkewitz's testosterone levels.
But back to T-Mobile. What do we all think? A knockout blow to the credibility of their new regime? Perhaps the last straw for the team's sponsor?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, actually, it shouldn't be the disaster that some people seem to believe. Already today T-Mobile have had the opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to cleaning up the sport, and to acknowledge the difficulties inherent in that process. I think that most of us are aware of those difficulties. We also know that dope testing isn't and can probably never be infallible, and that it's tough to root out the kind of deviant behaviour which has flourished in this sport for decades.
Second advantage: if Sinkewitz's B sample also comes back positive, he'll be sacked and T-Mobile will be shot of an athlete who probably never had any place in a system based on new, more wholesome ideals in the first place. The team's excellent new manager, Bob Stapleton, gave Sinkewitz the benefit of the doubt when it emerged during last year's Tour that Michele Ferrari was his coach. Now Stapleton will probably wish that he'd found a way to offload Sinkewitz last winter. I doubt he'll make the same mistake again.
Of course the "told you so" brigade will ignore all of this. This afternoon they're are already out in force. German Tour broadcaster ARD has announced that it is suspending their live coverage of the race until the Sinkewitz case is resolved. The likelihood is that German TV viewers have seen the last of this year's Grande Boucle.
I find ARD's reaction premature and churlish. It would be understandable if a vast doping ring on an Operacion Puerto scale had been uncovered, or if T-Mobile were trying to excuse Sinkewitz, but not as things stand. It's highly unfair and indeed foolish to deem that a sporting event is too discredited to merit coverage on the strength of a single athlete's misdemeanour. It also looks suspiciously like the kind of knee-jerk PR exercise that T-Mobile were accused of when they unveiled their new strategy last year.
It would be wonderful if T-Mobile could shrug their shoulders and press on undaunted, but the sad fact is that their destiny is tied to ARD's; in taking the Tour out of German living rooms ARD are also taking a huge chunk out of T-Mobile's brand exposure in Germany. Without that exposure, T-Mobile, already reticent about the team's future, may well opt to pull the plug.
Now call me what you want, but I just don't think that would help anyone....