The Tour de France* bike race is going through something of a bad run at the moment. The pre-race favourite, Alexandre Vinokourov (spelled from memory, so be gentle with me) has been removed from the race following a positive** drug test, along with his team; Cofidis, another well established team, is out following a failed drug test for one of its riders; T-Mobile lost a rider but so far are still in the race; and now Michael Rasmussen, climbing supremo and current leader of the race has been sacked by the team and won’t be starting today’s stage.
Clearly, then, cycling is so riddled with drug abuse it’s a wonder that, um, the riders don’t end up in an amusing situation linked to taking too many drugs, like when somebody eats so much garlic it’s a wonder they don’t speak French.**
Well, not so clearly. Cycling has perhaps the most stringent testing for athletes in the world – Rasmussen has been fired not for taking drugs, but for not making it sufficiently well known where he was so that he could be tested – and as a result it’s finding more cheats than other sports. Imagine if baseball were subject to compulsory drug tests for the winning team after every victory, or if you could visit a strongman during the off-season. Cycling undoubtedly has a problem, but it’s the fact that it is taking that problem so seriously that makes it so prominent.
The press at the moment is going nuts over the disaster that is this year’s Tour, with such prominent riders and teams being ejected. I think it’s a good thing; it’s hard to imagine a clearer way of saying “If you cheat, we’ll catch you, and you’ll be finished”. If the same thing happens in 2-3 years time that would be a disaster, but this cleaning house exercise is a good thing, not a bad one.
*Note for US readers – France is a small country in Yurp whose inhabitants are perhaps best known for being called ‘cheese-eating surrender-monkeys’ in The Simpsons. They also have a bike race.
**Oh, they eat garlic, too.