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Vive le Tour
submitted by Dave Balkin on 8/16/07
pixelThe TDF is the best soap opera in all of sports and in this day and age that's saying something. The 3 weeks it takes to unfold is just long enough to see as many highs and lows in the peleton as there are on a racecourse that features 2 mountain chains.
pixelIt's bad that drugs and cheats are everywhere in sports (and life) but it's brilliant that cycling ferrets them out and dispatches the perps immediately.
pixelThe spectacular feats of riding that turned out to be illegally fueled are like a giant hangover; giddy fun while going down but the after effects are sickening.
pixelThe excruciating unfairness of it, watching clean riders climbing a mountain while the cheats are working on molehills, suck the life out of an endurance sport rooted in honest effort and every rider, team manager and sponsor feel it.
pixelFrom its core this sport is screaming it wants no part of doping. For proof look no further than the purposeful embarrassment it heaps on itself as it exposes its unvarnished, ugly side to the world.
pixelCycling's vigilance and frontier justice is passed over by the mainstream media; instead pro cycling has become the poster child for illegal drug use. It's cycling's transparency that makes it the perfect whipping boy and if that gets clouded over the sport is doomed.
pixelIs it a double standard that other sports routinely use drugs that cyclists can't? Getting walking wounded back in the game requires strong medicine and our mainstream culture embraces as heroes men and women who play hurt.
pixelHey I'm conflicted. Hero is too strong a brand but I cheerfully ignore whatever David Ortiz may be doing to play with a bad shoulder and patching up Tom Brady so he can throw a football on Sundays is also more than okay by me.
pixelBut there's no place for drugs in cycling. They take the restrictor plate off a finely tuned motor and those on the level don't stand a chance. The most effective, EPO, is undetectable after 10 days and creates an Energizer Bunny that just keeps going and going.
pixelUndetectable regimens are the bane of scheduled drug testing, hence the need for out of competition (OOC) testing. It's why this year's yellow jersey, who failed no TDF tests was sacked at the height of his glory. Not by the officials, whose hands were tied, but by his own team that had everything to lose and did it regardless.
pixelThis jerk and every other rider signed a personal code of ethics document that among other things specifically targeted lying to avoid OOC testing with a penalty of being kicked off the team on the spot. It came out this jerk was training in Italy prior to the TDF; not Mexico visiting in-laws as he'd stated.
pixelMichael Rasmussen is the perp. He's guilty as sin even though he was not caught with his hand in the cookie jar. It's enough that the pantry's off limits; the jar's empty and crumbs are all over his face.
pixelHis lie allowed him to avoid an OOC test and when it was exposed the only possible explanation is an EPO regimen designed not to show up by the time the TDF rolled around.
pixelNobody tells a lie of this importance that comes with the death penalty unless there's something to hide. No proof no matter, that will come later; the immediate concern is a level playing field and as honest a result as possible.
pixelHe lied and his team did their duty. If every team dispatched its well paid, high profile cheats with the same immediacy as pro cycling, the sports world would be a better and healthier place.
pixelThe TDF soap opera offered another gut wrenching story line. The pre-race favorite, the sport's superstar, and till now my favorite rider, Alexander Vinokourov, tested positive for alien blood after a stage in which he blew the competition away.
pixelWinning the TDF was to be his swan song and he was the man. A really unlucky crash put him out of contention early on and my guess is the disappointment of not going out a winner was too much to bear so like Lucky Pierre he decided to go down in flames giving the sport the finger on the way down.
pixelGetting a transfusion in the middle of competition is bizarre; it's impossible not to get caught. The test is routine, 99% accurate and tantamount to suicide with the added whammy of living with the results.
pixelFYI the other rider booted was a journeyman domestique from Cofidis (a loan company) but this team took the code of ethics one step further signing a one guilty all guilty pledge and withdrew en masse from the race.
pixelFor better and worse all riders, indeed athletes of every stripe are entangled in a sports medicine web replete with microscopically fine lines. In cycling the best riders are also part time monks, as dedicated to the science of increasing human power on a bicycle, as those in the sports medicine/training discipline are in providing the psychological, physiological and chemical wherewithal.
pixelEnough of that and on to the race that showcased a remarkable American rider, Levi Leipheimer, Discovery's team leader going into the race who finally realized 2 lifelong dreams, winning a TDF stage and finishing on the podium.
pixelLevi rode conservatively the first half of the race never showing his face in front. He was left behind on several Alpine stages only to be rescued from devastating time losses either by circumstance or teammates. His first time trial was nothing special, certainly not the stuff of a contender who is supposed to be very good at that discipline.
pixelStill, he rode within himself and managed to enter the Pyrenees within hailing distance of the podium. On those mountains he became a man possessed. Levi did it all, working hard for the eventual winner and his teammate whose clear dominance shifted the mantle of team leadership; Levi was content with that. It was surprising that doing yeoman's work also found Levi strong enough to stay in the game.
pixelOnce the cheaters were out of the way Levi got a smell of the podium and was not to be denied. His anti-penultimate and stage winning time trial was sensational and sealed the deal going into the final stage typically a fast parade to celebrate 3 weeks of gut busting work.
pixelThe tradition is two mountain ranges and what goes on in-between is enough to determine a rightful winner. Meanwhile, Levi was just 31 seconds out of first but in a pre-stage interview said had absolutely no thoughts of winning or even moving up 8 lonely ticks to 2nd place. Levi said he'd accomplished everything he set out to do and barring a nightmare, it was going to be the thrill of his lifetime to finish 3rd.
pixelCycling's sweet irony is how combative these riders are but woven into the DNA is a winning isn't everything gene that's borne of necessity. Some days the motor works better than others and giving it absolutely everything in the heat of battle brings with it the purity of exhaustion. At that point a stronger man riding away earns respect and is somewhat easier to accept. It's devastating when it's not on the level.  
pixelThe race winner, Discovery's Alberto Contador, did Spain and his USA team proud. He rode like a champion. He relentlessly attacked and as the strongest legit rider in the race fully deserved to win. At 24 he's not fully matured as a stage racer and also won the white jersey as best young rider.
pixelThe excitement was palpable watching his too young legs charge up the Pyrenees sprinting away from the chemically enhanced Rasmussen time and again only to be reeled in. Mano a Supermano as it turned out; Rasmussen the jerk could have given us a clue and worn a yellow cape.
pixelDiscovery also won the team title and is leaving the sport after this season. Sponsors are getting scarce. The public flogging cycling administers to itself, while honorable, doesn't present well.
pixelSpeaking of which and as I write this, Barry Bonds is hitting home runs that put Hank Aaron in the rear view mirror. Bud Selig, baseball's unhappy commissioner isn't exactly smiling.
pixelBud and the rest of us know that Bonds is a gifted athlete with the perseverance of a monk in totally controlling what goes into his body. When baseball finally banned steroids, for Barry to say he did not know they were in the concoctions made by BALCO is impossible to believe. Equally unbelievable is his denial of, legal in the day, steroid use. That makes us all victims of his huge ego and living this flat out lie with him. At least fans of cycling don't have to live with Emperors who have no clothes.
pixelI rest my fragile case in defense of pro cycling. We're guilty as sin but unlike others are cleaning up our act in public. That deserves kudos not condemnation.
pixelVive le Tour!


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