‘The Tour is dead’ commented French daily Liberation and German paper ‘Bild’ on Thursday after the dramatic dropping of yellow jersey leader Michael Rasmussen from the Tour de France late on Wednesday.
Rasmussen’s withdrawal by his Rabobank team – they were to sack him on Thursday – for many of the European press was the death knell for the world’s greatest cycling race and placed enormous question marks about the future of the sport itself.
The only bright spot for the organisers was that while television audiences sharply declined in Germany, owing to the two public broadcasters taking it off the air – and being replaced by a satellite channel – following the revelation that German rider Patrik Sinkewitz had failed a test prior to the race the host broadcaster France Television said they were getting record audiences.
However for the print media it was a sense of doom and gloom as Rasmussen’s departure came a day after pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov was found to have been blood doping.
Liberation quite aside from declaring the race’s death also decided not to publish any results from the remaining stages.
“We are not going to publish them simply because the mounting doping scandals have taken away any sporting value from the event and gives no real sense of who is the best rider,” it said.
Instead Liberation said it would focus on the dominant issue surrounding the Tour.
“We will of course publish those medical stories that could still tarnish the race up to the end.”
Bild, Liberation’s fellow media undertakers as regards their opinion of the Tour, was unequivocal about what spectators would witness when the remnants of the peloton swung into Paris on Sunday.
“The Tour de France is dead, the arrival in Paris will be like a funeral procession,” commented Bild.
“The worldwide audience does not approve and is angry and disappointed with the cycling liars.”
Bild recommended dramatic steps to try and save the sport.
“We have to stop this farce. Nobody wants to see this crooked event. They have to begin from zero in order to save the sport, to present to our children new role models.”
Spanish daily El Pais also put on the black cap as regarding the race.
“This is a race that is mortally wounded.”
Italian paper La Repubblica at least offered some remedial help in a delightfully romantic Latin manner.
“Cycling is sick like for instance a friend or a relation who is on drugs,”
“That is why it is in need of being kept alive and not allowed to die.”
The Belgian (both French language and Flemish newspapers) and Dutch ones were universal in their opinon – “The Tour had been decapitated”.
Indeed the colourful and legendary English columnist James Lawton writing in ‘The Independent’ used a similar if more historical analogy when he addressed the scandal.
“Madame Guillotine should be put back to work. The Tour must be killed off, now and at least for 2008. Only a breath of credibility can bring the hope of a decent resurrection,” he wrote.
‘The Guardian’ didn’t spare its feelings for the venerable 104 year old race either.
“The credibility of the Tour de France was in free fall last night” after Rasmussen has been “booted out.”
“In any other year, yesterday’s stage (Rasmussen won the final mountain
stage) would have been one of the most memorable in the 104-year history of the Tour de France. Not this year, however. This was the worst day of all.”
It “might just precipitate the wholesale cleansing of a sport that has spent years wallowing in its own filth.”
“It might be best for the organisers of the 2007 Tour (…) to follow suit (the decision of Rabobank to expell Rasmussen) by abandoning the race as a further gesture of intent.”