Plenty of fans and especially the press saw the spate of doping scandals as a death knell to Le Tour, but the view from the road in Paris told a different story. The streets were still lined with the sport’s fanatical fans, though the official Rabobank supporters area was a little depleted with not many in the team’s colours either.
The greatest cheers along the Champs-Élysées were not for the winners or even the sprinters contesting the final yards. Nope they were reserved for the rouleurs and domestiques who’d given everything for the good of the team, guys like Geraint Thomas in his first tour and the youngest man in the field, his weary ride through the final kilometres. You could see the Tour’s toll etched into him.
All professional sports have cheats and swindlers but it’s those that ride for the love of the sport we should celebrate and the Tour should be celebrated for what it is: the toughest endurance event in the world and we should praise those that choose to do it fairly and hope that cycling can rid the pro ranks of the frauds.
I don’t mean to defend those that break the rules, but the mass media’s pious attitude and epitaphs for professional cycling have been ridiculous in the extreme. At least (and it’s a big least) cycling’s governing bodies are trying to address the situation, it may be fumbling around sometimes with too many chiefs and not enough Indians – can you work out who is in charge? Prudhomme? Leblanc? ASO? The UCI? WADA?
For all the talking heads we’ve seen over the past weeks it could be anyone. It makes the motorsport worlds FIA wrangling with F1 look simple.
Even so, they are doing something.
Take any other ‘professional’ sport anywhere in the world and you will find cheating, be it medicinal or not. Read http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=hill/070731 for the low-down on the problems and failure of it being addressed in American football, not to mention the points shaving for betting ring allegations in basketball and baseball, or dating from 2003 the BBC’s investigation into the most professional of sports or our own hallowed football.
Even Golf is now under suspicion with golf legend Gary Player’s claims on the eve of the open at Carnoustie.
A letter this month to the Cycling Plus magazine was from a disgruntled reader and cycling fan saying he’s giving up on pro cycling because of the scandals and doping and will now focus on his other favourite sports tennis, badminton and squash. But surely the ATP have had their problems and acknowledged them in recent times.
Athletics, well the list is long and legends have been crushed or tainted forever under a cloud of suspicion. This isn’t being an apologist for cycling but I am accusing the little amount of ‘value’ seen in sporting ideals as soon as big money is involved.
So is there a solution? I don’t know. Will cycling and Le Tour survive? Certainly but it will change, big name sponsors have already pulled out – for one BMC – makers of superb race machines but bad choices in pro teams (Phonak and then Astana!). Others are reassessing their future involvement in the sport.
There’s no chance it will become an amateur sport again – we are too far down the road of commercialism – as it was in its pioneering days, although cheating was still rife even then (see Les Woodlands great piece on the villains of the tour in the Cycling Plus issue 200 Post- Tour supplement).
If the money goes, the races will change and riders of the character of Wiggins, Thomas, Cavendish and riders who believe in racing clean will prosper.
See www.raceclean.org for commentary on the revelations in the fight against doping, or if you want something edgier see www.su13.us (I can’t vouch for this site as its what you’d call ‘forthright’ though it makes interesting reading, if a bit scary in its militancy and rage!) or www.doperssuck.com (name says it all).
But the light is there at the end of the tunnel when the riders themselves protest about doping, rather than protesting about testing as it was back in ’98 after the Festina scandal. So I won’t give up on racing, I’ll still go and watch it and I’ll be there cheering on the pros when the Tour of Britain rolls through Somerset (Cycling Plus’s home county).
But I’ll cheer for the riders I know to be clean and that’s all.