Dopey few cast long shadow over Tour
2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins leads a new era of clean cycling. AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET
Very few people will be shocked by the news that another rider has allegedly been caught for doping at the Tour de France. The only surprise is that it took so long for this year’s competition to be marred by another scandal.
Luxembourgish rider Frank Schleck has left the race after testing positive for Xipamide, a banned substance that can assist in weight loss and potentially mask the presence of performance enhancing drugs.
Schleck had been sitting almost ten minutes behind race leader Bradley Wiggins, with absolutely no chance of winning the tour. Even if he had pumped himself full of every super-drug on the planet, Schleck would never have touched the yellow jersey.
The potential reward hardly seems to have been worth the risk. Schleck could definitely use some performance enhancing substances for his brain.
But of course, the reputation of one rider is nothing compared to the embarrassment that this incident will cause for his sport.
There has been a long overdue push to clean up competitive cycling in recent years, with more drug cheats then ever being caught and punished for their actions. Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador have both been stripped of tainted Tour de France victories. And there is now a huge question mark over Lance Armstrong.
But there will always be idiots who try to beat the system, and they ruin the spectacle for everyone else involved. Whenever a rider seems to be winning too easily, your first instinct is to wonder whether he is juiced up on drugs.
This constant suspicion is a real shame, because a clean victory at the Tour de France must rank among the very toughest of sporting achievements. The level of fitness and mental strength required to ride for three weeks on end, scaling towering mountains along the way, is unmatched in any other sport.
Reigning tour champion Cadel Evans is so admired as an athlete because cycling insiders and casual spectators alike are convinced that he races clean. You can see the strain on his face and feel the exhaustion in his legs.
It is obvious that the man struggles, and that makes his effort all the more impressive. For Evans, the difficulty of racing without drugs must make each victory feel infinitely more satisfying.
I would be amazed if Contador or Landis ever felt such genuine satisfaction, yet both stood on the podium in Paris smiling from ear to ear. How could anyone be truly proud of an accomplishment tainted by blatant cheating?
When athletes are caught doping, they bring shame on their sport, their competitors and themselves. It takes a special kind of selfishness to risk all of that for the sake of a coloured jersey.
If Bradley Wiggins does win this year’s Tour de France, thousands upon thousands of fans will regard his triumph with the utmost suspicion, despite a lack of any incriminating evidence.
That is horrendously unfair. But when the deplorable actions of a selfish few bring the entire sport into disrepute, it is entirely unavoidable.