I was so hoping this kind of behavior was behind the Tour de France, especially since all the riders competing this year were required to sign a Riders Commitment, stating that they were drug-free and that they intended to remain drug-free. The document also included a pledge that if they were caught doping, their entire annual salary would go to the campaign against substance abuse in cycling. I don’t know about anyone else, but if my entire annual salary were up for grabs over doping, I would think twice about taking so much as an aspirin.
While it is important to remember that, under American law (which, of course, is not the governing authority in this situation), a person accused of an offense is considered innocent until proven guilty, at least one current Tour de France competitor, David Millar of Team Saunier Duval, had an opinion about the matter, quoting from an article in Cycling News:
“That is a surprise. I don’t know what to say,” a shocked Millar stated. “Vino is one of my favourite riders. He is a guy of class. Given what we have done, with our current situation, we may as well pack our bags and go home,” continued the Scot. …After a minute of reflection, he clarified, “No, I don’t believe the Tour should stop here…”Mr. Vinokourov insists he is innocent and, like Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton before him, the case will take months to sort out. Yet, if the truth lies in a confession of doping, then Vinokourov risked a lot…and lost. Just one day after his Stage 13 time trial win, it was reported on live race coverage that Astana would sponsor the cycling team with the riders from Kazakhstan for ten more years and that, if he so chose, Mr. Vinokourov could be the team manager. A decade of financial support and a dream job vs. a stage win in the Tour de France; the gamble was definitely NOT worth it.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, this afternoon (Wednesday), Tour de France officials announced a second positive doping test, this time from Cristian Moreni of Team Cofidis after Stage 11 of the race. Mr. Moreni, who admitted his wrongdoing immediately, was lead away by police and did not ask for his B-sample to be tested. Like Vinokourov, his team is now out of the competition.
What were these guys thinking? Urine tests are conducted daily on a random sampling of riders from the entire peloton, plus the race leader, and the stage winner. I suppose I can understand the temptation for Alexander Vinokourov to engage in substance abuse, especially if he thought it might put him back in contention for a podium finish, but what possible advantage could Cristian Moreni gain by doping? He was 58th in the overall standings after Stage 15. No drug in the world would have helped him make up the one hour, 34 minute, and 45 second deficit he had to race leader, Michael Rasmussen. That would have taken a miracle, not a performance-enhancing substance like testosterone.
Adding even more insult to the aforementioned injuries was the late-breaking news on Wednesday night that the tour leader, Michael Rasmussen, would not be returning to the Tour de France for Thursday’s start. Team Rabobank, in a stunning decision, withdrew their lead cyclist from the race, citing violation of internal policies:
“He broke team rules,” a spokesman for Rabobank said. “It is not certain if the team will continue in the race.” Rabobank team director Theo de Rooy was more specific. “ On several occasions, he claimed he was training, and that was a lie,” de Rooy said.Mr. Rasmussen is accused of telling his team that he was in Mexico when, in actuality, he was training in the Italian mountains. Why is that a problem? Professional cyclists who participate in the UCI ProTour are required to make their whereabouts known so that they are available for out-of-competition random drug testing at any time. The UCI drug officials and Team Rabobank claim that Michael Rasmussen failed to do this.
So what do all these developments mean to the overall standings in the Tour de France? It leaves Alberto Contador of Team Discovery Channel in first place, Cadel Evans of Team Predictor-Lotto in second, and Levi Leipheimer, also from Discovery Channel, in third. Not exactly the way two riders from the only American team in the race would have wanted to take the lead but, nonetheless, it is now theirs. Let’s just pray that the next four days are uneventful.