This Day In Doping: A drugless Tour?

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It was another listless day in the peloton today, but in one respect that may be a good thing.

So far this Tour has been remarkable in one instance (and one only): No doping violations have been announced. There may be a lag factor here: Samples have to be collected, transported, tested and re-tested. That takes time, so it’s often well into the Tour before riders are implicated.

But moreso than in recent Tours, I keep hearing words like “exhausted,” “tired,” “fatigued” and “worn out” coming from riders and commentators. Those descriptions do not sound like a race full of doping. If that’s the case and indeed riders are staying clean this Tour, it may mark a significant transition for pro cycling.

Greg Lemond has commented on how, once EPO and other drugs came to dominate the ranks, cyclists’ demeanor changed. The sweat pouring off the brow, the heaving lungs, the agonized faces wrenched in pain and suffering — all became a thing of the past. Riders could do huge pulls while barely showing any physical duress. We saw that in Lance. We saw it in Michael Rasmussen (who for the record never was tagged with drug violations, simply suspicion of doping) and Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton and Bernhard Kohl and Floyd Landis (not on the day he bonked, but the following day on his “miracle recovery” ride to supposed victory). We saw it in all the big names accused of doping.

Today we’re hearing more about how trashed riders are feeling. Case in point is Tom Boonen. one of the world’s premier sprinters who got himself caught in a drug scandal with cocaine but reinstated right before the Tour. Boonen has extra incentive to stay clean, and he’s complaining mightily about being tired.

The perennial excuse for doping was that everyone was doing it. Maybe this time around, everyone isn’t.

There are many new faces to the Tour, including younger riders perhaps not so beholden to the drug culture. And the younger set is turning out to be the bright spot of this year’s event — riders like Wenatchee’s Tyler Farrar and Germany’s Tony Martin.

I’m working entirely on speculation here, and it will remain speculation till violations are or are not announced, which could extend well beyond the Tour’s final day 10 days from now. But so far, the signs are encouraging. If it happens that the 2009 Tour marks the turning point of doping in professional cycling, cycling fans everywhere can only be glad.

Note: reported today: “This morning, Italian police arrested failed pro, turned coach, Aleksandar Nikacevic for being the mastermind behind a huge doping ring. Nikacevic, A former head of Serbian cycling was arrested with thirty others, including around a dozen pro cyclists by the Padua police in northern Italy.”

Just another sign that the curtain is coming down…hard.


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