Rocked by doping allegations and revelations over the past year, this time they have plenty of fodder.
It's impossible to ignore the events that began before last year's Tour even began. The top three finishers behind Lance Armstrong in 2005, Jan Ulrich, Ivan Basso and Francesco Mancebo, and several other riders were banned after being implicated in doping probe just before the beginning of the 2006 race. Floyd Landis' victory was quickly stained as he tested positive for elevated testosterone levels.
Bad to worse
Things have only gotten worse over the past 12 months. Ulrich left the sport. Basso received a two-year suspension. The 1996 tour winner, Bjarne Riis admitted to using the performance-enhancing drug, EPO. Landis’ second drug sample also came up positive and case is still in arbitration.
The Landis case took a sleazy twist earlier this year when the first American to win the Yellow Jersey, Greg LeMond, took the stand amid revelations of child sexual abuse and accusations of blackmail.
Seven-time winner Lance Armstong, dogged with accusations throughout his career, continues to face doping claims more than a year after his retirement from the sport.
Of course, other sports have been hit hard with doping scandals. From track star Justin Gatlin to Austrian tennis player Stefan Koubek, it’s difficult to imagine a sport that hasn’t been touched.
Congress even intervened in the Major League Baseball probe after Jose Canseco’s tell-all book. New York Yankees’ Jason Giambi announced last month that he would cooperate with the ongoing investigation. And as he nears the home run record, a cloud of suspicion continues to surround the Giants’ Barry Bonds.
In some cases, doping goes beyond the simple issue of cheating and ethics.
McMahon said other prescription medications were found in the wrestler’s house in addition to the steroids. But this week, court papers showed that Benoit’s doctor prescribed a 10-month supply of anabolic steroids every three to four weeks for a one-year period. The doctor was charged with improperly prescribing drugs to other patients. The results of Benoit’s toxicology reports aren’t expected for several weeks.
This year, the UCI, cycling’s governing body, is requiring all riders to submit DNA samples and sign a charter renouncing any involvement in doping. Riders who don’t sign the charter will be banned from the Tour. Anyone caught doping will be banned from cycling for two years and face fines equal to a year’s salary.
Some officials say all the recent disclosures are the results of the sport’s harsh clean-up campaign, not the other way around. If that’s the case, will other sports see similar fallout if they adopt similar measures?
More importantly for cycling fans, can the sport overcome the tarnish and regain its credibility? Or are “death of cycling in the U.S.” commentators right?
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The reality is that for the mainstream audience, cycling in the U.S. hasn’t died because it never really lived. Without a big American star, it’ll probably go back to being one of those “other” sports followed by a dedicated minority. Sportswriters will no longer feel the need to come up with reasons to dislike it. And those of us who love it will continue to rabidly consume any coverage, despite the confusion of our peers.
2010 Tour de France