Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Tour de France Needs Fixing

One of the reasons I love sports so much is because there are athletes out there capable of overcoming incredible odds to do things the average person, including me, can't do.

I have a mountain bike, but I don't consider myself necessarily a "cycling" fan. However, I have always been intrigued by the Tour de France, and the monstrous challenges it offers. Following the 7 straight titles won by Lance Armstrong, after nearly dying from cancer, was awesome. I was similarly moved when Floyd Landis pulled out a miraculous win last year, all while needing a hip replacement! So when it came out that Landis more than likely cheated his way to victory, I was upset. I know this isn't just a problem in cycling. See Ben Johnson, Mark McGwire and Lyle Alzado just to name a few. But, the closer I looked at the sport of cycling at the Tour de France level, the more I saw a systematic effort by its participants to try to get away with cheating, whether it be with steroids, or blood transfusions or just taking a cold medicine. Yes, a cold medicine! These riders are not allowed to take ANYTHING! Oh, unless they have a medical waiver from their doctor saying they need to because of asthma or something. As long as they have a waiver, that drug is allowed. How ironic, that 60% of the riders at last year's race had medical waivers! Some of those over the counter drugs help "mask" the use of other illegal drugs. At last check, more than 40% of the riders had the medical waivers this year. Now, with two riders in two days being bounced from the race due to failed drug tests, including favorite Alexandre Vinokourov, and the race leader Michael Rasmussen under suspicion because he didn't report his whereabouts during a recent drug test, it seems the sport, or at least the Tour de France, needs to take drastic steps.

While I'm no expert, I'm going to use the common sense meter for proposing a solution. When each rider reports to the race, they are locked up in a "dorm" by tournament officials, where they will have zero access to outside sources. Each team will be issued the exact same support equipment, when it comes to water bottles, the water inside the bottles, the energy bars, etc. The teams will be "quarantined" in a separate compound, where all of their equipment will be searched and approved. Each rider will continue to submit to daily drug tests just in case. That's the only way this can be fixed. While it's hard for many Americans to grasp why these athletes would go to such lengths to cheat for a bicycle race, it's apparent this is a sport held in high regard in many parts of Europe, with millions of dollars on the line.

I am all for inspirational stories. I just don't like to find out later that their source of inspirational came in an illegal bottle of drugs.

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