Le Tour

Ever since I was about 13/14yrs old I’ve been watching possibly the worlds most famous cycling race – le Tour de France. Originally it was caught snippets of the highlights on ITV and occassionally watching it on Eurosport (mostly when we were only holiday and the hotel had Eurosport). I can’t say what fascinates me about this race, it’s just… amazing, the sheer strength and will of these cyclists is just unbelievable. Last year since the prologue of the tour was starting in London I had my first chance ever to go and watch it LIVE, it was fantastic. I didn’t have a great view as I arrived half-way through the time trials (been meeting with friends earlier) but the experience is something I’d love to revisit.

Last years tour was a bitter disappointment for me, my pick for the win Alexandre Vinokourov was found to be cheating with the help of a blood transfusion and so we said goodbye to the entire Astana team, including another of my favourites that year Andreas Klöden (placed 5th). Later it emerged that Michael Rasmussen, the big Dane who dominated the King of the Mountains competition and was currently the holder of the mallot jaune, had lied about his whereabouts duing out of season drug testing. He was promptly sacked by Rabobank… Cofids also went home in shame after one of their riders (Cristian Moreni) failed a drugs test and also the German broadcasters pulled their coverage after a T-Mobile rider failed (Patrik Sinkewitz) a drugs test one month before the tour. Iban Mayo, a rider who was a specialist climber and brilliant at it tested postive for EPO on the second rest day. Questions stared to be asked about the races future and whether or not the war on drugs could be won, as a former winner Bjarne Rijs admitted that he doped to win his tour in 1996. One French newspaper published a notice of death about the tour saying it had passed away after a long illness.

We should have seen it coming really, Ivan Basso another one of the big name favourites was suspended for 2yrs for admiting that he planned to use drugs to help him win the 2007 tour… we started the race without him. It was a horrible year for the tour, but one man did emerge as a contender for the future – Alberto Contador who went on to win the race. There is a small question mark over Contador as well as his name was linked with Operation Puerto, although this has been deined and he has not failed any drugs tests. I believe he’s a clean rider.

ASO (the organises of the tour) we confident that they could win the war, this year they excluded Team Astana from starting the race… this is after the man who won last year (Contador) signed for them (along with Levi Lephimer) after the demise of Discovery at the end of the previous tour. Astana appealed and lost, but were a last minute addition to the Giro d’Iltalia where Contador showed his stuff by winning the overall race. UCI split with ASO over concerns about doping controls for this years tour as well as their decision not to allow Contador to defend his title… the tour was already in some dispute and we hadn’t even started yet.

So far, we’re 9 stages in and we’ve had one positive drugs test and one rider banned for cocaine use (Tom Boonen). Manuel Beltran, a former team mate of Lance Armstrong, was found to have abnormal blood values after stage one – a blood test confirmed the prescent of EPO. It should be noted that he is the fourth former team mate of Lance Armstrong to be found to have cheated, which for me brings back into question whether or not Armstrong rode all his tours clean. Beltran was one of the remaining ‘dinosaurs’, a man of a different era… the younger cyclist coming into the tour don’t have time for drugs, particularly EPO.

This year the French papers are calling it the Cavendish era after 23yr old British rider Mark Cavendish was the youngest rider ever to win a stage and the first British rider to win two stages in the same year… not only do we have Cavendish giving us a spectacular performance we have Riccardo Ricco (24yrs old) who won his second stage today.

I have faith in the tour, I have faith that the battle against doping will be won. As Mark Rendell on the ITV commentary team put it, we’ve said goodbye to the dinosaurs of the Armstrong-era and said hello to the young riders of the Cavendish era. Viva la Tour!

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