Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Team Borat out of tour

Alexandr Vinokourov, the pre-race favourite in the Tour de France, has tested positive for blood doping, and he and his Astana team have been thrown off the race.

One of the worst things about the crisis in cycling, and especially the tour, is that the history is gradually being leached out. As a youngster just starting out racing, I remember some of the great, great rides I saw in the mountains and in time trials. Claudio Chiapucci's epic ride to Sestrieres, and Miguel Indurain putting 3 minutes into the entire field in a time trial spring instantly to mind. I remember the astonishment at the now-disgraced Bjarne Riis in 1996. Now every outstanding ride invites suspicion. If the brilliant rides that give the tour its historic backdrop become worthless, then the heart is ripped out of the event.

Vinokourov himself had only just added to that history, having won a brutal stage in the Pyrennees, after riding in an audaciously attacking style all day. He crossed the line, alone, 50 seconds ahead of anyone else. This after a spectacular collapse in a previous mountain stage that had left him over 30 minutes down overall. It was a great, great stage win, but now it's meaningless. Even worse, it further devalues all the great wins of the past.

Our very own Bradley Wiggins summed up the feelings of people who care about cycling. "It is a disaster for the sport," he said. "There will be no cycling in 10 years if this goes on." While this might be going a bit far, it certainly seems possible that there will be no cycling worth caring about in 10 years.

Then again...

It seems that there is some hope, as eight teams held an anti-drugs protest at the start of today's stage. The protesting riders left the stage depart 2 minutes after the other teams. The first group, including yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen, was roundly jeered by the crowd, while the protesters were applauded. You have to wonder what the teams not involved in the protest were thinking, but perhaps the penny will begin to drop...

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