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03 Aug 2007 09:43
I didn’t watch Alberto Contador putting on the final yellow jersey of this year’s Tour de France in Paris. As I said, even before the disaster unfolded, this wasn’t a Tour where I was going to get worked up about who won.
By Sunday I had gone beyond indifference into mild animosity.
For me, this Tour has no winner.
Should the yellow jersey have even been awarded this year to the winner of the Tour? On balance, I’m with Greg LeMond on this one: no, not this year.
The organisers’ “argument” is that it is a dishonour to the riders who are actually racing not to have an overall winner. I’d like to know how many of the Tour field do take the overall classification seriously and how many agree with Bradley Wiggins and Christophe Moreau that it is meaningless.
I suspect the fact that Credit Lyonnais has paid to have a man stand on a podium in a yellow jersey on live TV may carry a little more weight. But not acknowledging a final winner would have made the point that this is where the fightback starts.
Where do we go from here, apart from back to our homes with a sense of relief that it is all over?
Where do the answers lie? Not, as one columnist has suggested, in legalising doping, on the grounds that it cannot be beaten. That would simply force guys who don’t want to dope to fill themselves up with drugs or go elsewhere. Lovely.
Said columnist seemed to think that the UCI’s 50% haematocrit limit of 1997 reduced EPO abuse. I’d argue that the 50% limit is part of the reason we are where we are now: it made doping acceptable, by giving the idea that what mattered was not the drug-taking and cheating, but whether you damaged your health in doing it.
A partial return to national teams, as proposed by the Tour organisers? That might play its part, if only to rein in the rampant commercialism that has contributed to the current free-for-all, to make the point to professional teams that there is an alternative. Part of the problem, it seems, is that some teams think the race won’t function without them. They need to get the message that it can. Next year, if the Tour organisers have any bottle, maybe it will.
Putting on national colours won’t stop doping just like that, but it would cut the ties with the doping infrastructure that must travel with some of the teams. Arguably, without the finance and the structure (doctors, couriers, et cetera) it would be harder to dope.
There are other measures: blood-testing up to 30 minutes before the start. Ramping up out-of-competition tests. Hammering the World Anti-Doping Agency to push through the human growth hormone test and a way of detecting heterologous blood transfusions. Appointing a neutral doping control officer-cum-detective to each team.
One final point is this, as part of revamping the Tour—ban team buses. This might sound like fiddling while Rome burns, but there is a logic to it. Part of the reason for the current crisis is that professional cyclists live in a bubble: journalists can’t question them, fans can’t look them in the eye, children can’t get autographs. Banning buses would reconnect them with the world and that is what many of them sorely need.
One question to close this depressing chapter: How many of this year’s top 30 Tour finishers will be back next year? Your guess is as good as mine.—Â
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