The campaign was successful only in that it inspired the athletes to find better ways to cheat the drug tests. The following year, Marco Pantani, the previous year’s winner, was thrown out for doping. In 2004, more than a dozen riders were expelled. After last year’s record seventh straight win by Lance Armstrong, the French sports newspaper, L’Equipe, reported that tests performed on one of Armstrong’s preserved urine samples from 1999 revealed evidence of EPO, a popular drug in cycling that boosts the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. An investigation launched by the International Cycling Union exonerated Armstrong, but it didn’t stop people from saying he cheated.
This year, there were the series of suspensions before the race began. Clearly, all the testing and all the enforcement efforts have done nothing to stop the cheating; they’ve only forced the cheaters, who probably include most if not all of the top riders, to find better ways to hide the evidence.
The surprise here is that Landis got caught so late in the race. The offending sample was taken after the 17th stage, the same one in which he put on an unbelievable performance a day after all but falling out of contention. People marveled at his ability to recover. Now, there is evidence that he had help in the recovery.
There will be appeals and tests of backup samples. But it looks as if Landis, desperate to win, took a chance after his terrible performance in stage 16. He wanted to win and knew he had to do something extraordinary to do it. So he did some drugs he hoped wouldn’t be detected.
That’s just a theory, but it makes sense. He lost the gamble, which will make a lot of people in France and Europe very happy because finally, a Yank got caught doing what everybody else has been doing.
But it won’t change the underlying truth of big-time cycling: It’s a cheater’s sport.
2006 Tour de France
Landis finishes first in race that had heroics, crashes and a drug scandal that rocked the race even before it began.
2010 Tour de France