I must admit that I'm a huge fan of the Tour de France bicycle race. But this year's Tour has been rocked by one scandal after another. First, one of the pre-race favorites, Alexandre Vinokourov, was kicked out of the race because testing showed he had an illegal blood transfusion (adding blood increases the body's endurance), and his entire team, Astana, was withdrawn.
Then the French team, Cofidis, was kicked out of the race, again, because of some form of illegal doping. One would have thought that was enough scandal for this year, but the biggest shock came Wednesday.
A Danish rider, Michael Rasmussen, has been leading the Tour for several days. On Wednesday, he won another leg of the Tour and increased his lead over second place to about 3 minutes. Most people, including myself, thought this would be enough of a lead to make him the winner when the Tour ends in Paris on Sunday.
But that is not to be. After the race on Wednesday, Rasmussen's team sponsor (Rabobank) withdrew him from the race and sent him home for "violating internal rules". All cyclists are supposed to keep the dope testing organizations abreast of their location, even when they are not competing. Rasmussen did not do that, and missed at least two tests.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme said, "We cannot say that Rasmussen cheated, but his flippancy and his lies on his whereabouts had become unbearable."
While this scandal may hurt the Tour, it is good news for America's Discovery Channel team. The team was already in first place in the team competition by 16 minutes, and looked good to win their first team championship. Now they also have one of their team members in first place overall in the individual competition, and another in third place.
Spaniard Alberto Contador, a Discovery rider, is now in first place by nearly two minutes. American Levi Leipheimer is in third place, and only 56 seconds behind the second place rider. If the other Discovery riders can protect them until Saturday's individual time trial, and they do well in that time trial, they could both be on the podium Sunday in Paris.
The American team has had an individual winner before (Lance Armstrong), but it has never won both the individual and team championships. Sunday might be the day that happens.
CC McGoon here. With jobsanger's permission, I just want to expand on a few things regarding this years Tour.
Vinokourov, of the Astana team, first caught my attention in the 2005 Tour de France riding for the T-Mobile team with Jan Ullrich. He gave such a memorable effort in that year's race that, even though we were rooting for Lance, we wanted to see Vino place high in the final standings as well. As it was Armstrong's last year competing, I really looked forward to seeing what Vino would do in 2006.
When the next year rolled around, Vino was robbed. A couple of days before the Tour began, the new team he was cycling for, Astana-Wurth, withdrew from the race. Five of their team members were implicated in a doping scandal. The four remaining team members who were not themselves implicated, including Vino, were left with not enough riders to meet the minimum requirement to enter the race. My high hopes were dashed. Those who were cheating had robbed him of any chance he had that year.
That is why I an so broken-hearted that he has now been caught doping. Not only has he lowered himself in my estimation, but he has cheated his Astana teammates this year in the same way he was cheated last year. My heart goes out to Andreas Kloden, who was in 5th place a couple of days ago. Now, thanks to Vino, he will not place at all.
Rasmussen is also a great rider who has not only embarassed himself, but the Tour and the entire sport as well. Last Thursday, the Danish national team announced that he will no longer be allowed to compete in international races representing the team. He may not have failed any drug tests, but making himself unavailable to be tested does not look good for him at all. Personally, I think he should not have been allowed to compete in this year's Tour, seeing as how this information was available at the end of June. I do, however, understand his removal at this point in the race. Now that the Astana and Cofidis teams have withdrawn due to one member of each team failing drug tests, it would not look good to cycling fans if someone else who is dodging his own drug-testing allegations were allowed to remain in, and very well win, this race.
It is time for cycling to clean house, and there is no more important place to start than in the most watched race of the sport. I whole-heartedly support the actions being taken to combat what is scarring such a great sport, and I send out much love to those riders who are competing in an honest manner.
One more small thing:
GO TEAM DISCOVERY!