Give Le Tour le Timeout

Riccardo Ricco

Riccardo Ricco

The Tour de France is, without question, one of the most grueling sporting events in the world. It requires strength, stamina and perseverance, nearly beyond measure.

But right now, it’s in dire need of a timeout. In fact, if the 21-stage bike race over more than 2,000 miles were an NCAA program, it would probably be given the death penalty.

Which is exactly what it needs.

And that’s too bad.

It’s too bad because cycling is a wonderful sport and the Tour epitomizes it at its peak. But in a sports era racked by the tsunami known as performance-enhancing drugs, the sport has also come to represent “cheating” at its most sophisticated.

This was supposed to be the sport’s watershed season, the year when doping officials said “Fini!” and put a system in place that would rid the sport of dopers and other scalawags.

But then Thursday, one of the sport’s biggest stars — Italy’s Riccardo Ricco — became the sports latest doper. He was expelled from the race for failing blood tests. A local prosecutor said he may face charges of “use of poisonous substances.” Ricco had won the sixth and ninth stages and was ninth overall.

This is now the third consecutive Tour marred by drugs, seemingly the gazillionth overall.

To their credit, cycling officials have been headstrong in their efforts to clean up the sport and had made progress. “May the cheaters get caught. May they go away,” Tour president Christian Prudomme has been widely quoted as saying. But even one of his colleagues, Patrice Clerc, who heads Tour organizer ASO, acknowledges that the mess will require more than a few sponges. “You can’t believe that a wave of a magic wand can change the world of cycling.”

Maybe a break will.

Put the race on hiatus for, say, two or three years, during which time cyclists are tested, tested and re-tested, and the cheaters are weeded out until all that’s left are, well, cyclists.

Last week, three-time champion Greg LeMond told The New York Times he was more optimistic about the sport than he’d been in decades. “I believe there are ways that you can eliminate 98 percent of the advantages of drugs, and I think the Tour de France realizes it,” he said.

But they may not truly realize how long it will take, or how drastic the measure might need to be.

Perhaps they do now.

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8 thoughts on “Give Le Tour le Timeout

  1. MarvinK says:

    It’s just as likely that the Tour de France will take a 2-year Hiatus as it is that the NFL will sit out a couple years of the SuperBowl or MLB will decide there is no point for baseball in October because they have so many cheaters.

    Didn’t you just write an entry about why someone should pick up Barry Bonds for the rest of the season?

    If you want to talk about doping–please focus on those sports that you actually cover.

  2. Thunder Girl says:

    This may be the most idiotic argument I’ve ever heard. So, shut down the Tour because they’re catching the few who are cheating, but turn a blind eye to every other professional sport that doesn’t even TRY to get a handle on doping controls?

    You should stick to writing stuff that’s clearly at your level, like Basketball’s hottest ex-wife and Beyonce’s SI appearance…

  3. Ludovic says:

    Well,

    Riccardo Ricco cheated with third generation of EPO. In What other sport could you find this product ? In what other sport you search this product ?

    No one.
    And Remember. Barry Bonds never was positive in controls.
    Did they search in boxing, baseball, football, soccer ?

  4. MarvinK says:

    I think the fact that Barry Bonds was never caught in controls pretty much sums it up. It’s not because there is a lack of a problem… it’s the total lack of interest in a solution. Congress shouldn’t be involved in catching dopers… they shouldn’t have to.

  5. Thunder Girl says:

    “Riccardo Ricco cheated with third generation of EPO. In What other sport could you find this product ?”

    Nice try Ludovic, but ANY sport requiring endurance would be a prime area for CERA testing – marathon/distance running/steeplechase in for and field, triathalon, swimming… the list goes on.

  6. Ludovic says:

    My point is : Have you caught cheaters in these sports you cited yet ? No.

    I agree with you that can be a possibility for next Olympics. Wait and see. But Cycling (and not thanks to UCI but thanks to ASO and AFLD) is in advance in research about next generation doping

  7. John says:

    I’m curious Roy, why you and the other cycling-ignorant US journalists are so quick to sound the death knell of cycling because a few riders were caught cheating. I’m curious why you didn’t mention the fact that they go to JAIL for these offenses, that they are expelled from the tour, they are suspended or fired from their team, that they sacrifice their winnings and their salary. Is it because they aren’t turned into instant celebrities the way US sports cheaters are?

    Are you really so arrogant to think UCI and ASO need you to point out to them they have a serious problem? Hello? No other sport in the world has as a program as advanced as that of cycling to test, identify and punish those who cheat.

    How many of your sacred US sports would do what was done to Tom Boonen? Who tested positive for Cocaine out of competition, but was still uninvited to the Tour.

    You should be applauding the efforts of cycling organizations around the world who are striving to clean up the sport, rather than headline mongering with more half-witted “journalism.”

    This sort of half-baked commentary about US sports may have flown successfully but when it comes to reporting on cycling, you barely rate being called a Fred. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_(bicycling))

    Step up your game, or stick with something you can handle, like the dramatic injustice of the racial imbalance in the SI Swimsuit models.

  8. Thunder Girl says:

    actually Ludovic, loads of swimmers – in particular the Chinese team – have been caught using everything from EPO to HGH. In fact, three of their Olympic hopefuls and a coach receieved lifetime bans for EPO and HGH use in June.

    CERA has only been available a short time (FDA approval in Nov. 2007 but ther have been patent disputes, it’s only been available in Europe for about 6 months), which is the reason we’re just seeing it now it and why WADA worked the Pharm companies to develop the tests that AFLD does.

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