July 29, 2007
Haven’t been blogging for a while, but it’s ironic that the most recent post was on doping in professional sports because the final day of the Tour de France offers a good time for reflection on just these issues.
It is hard for me to decide which of the eliminations from the Tour were most troubling, but there are five prominent exits that were especially painful to watch: the elimination of the entire Astana and Cofidis teams (can anyone tell me why T-Mobile wasn’t forced to exit?); Alexandre Vinokourov; Michael Rasmussen; Dave Zabriske (the American time-trial champion who did not make the cut at the end of stage 8, a day when Vinokourov’s acceleration split the peloton and recorded one of the fastest average speeds ever in the tour); and Denis Menchov (the team leader of Rabobank who abandoned the day after Rasmussen’s firing).
But I have to think that this is ultimately good for cycling. Major competitors are speaking out against doping in the sport. Rabobank’s firing Rasmussen was courageous and demonstrates one way forward. Tom Boonen (who looks to have wrapped up the green jersey competition) has expressed the right sentiment when he says that he is proud to be finishing with the guys in the peloton and that “cheaters need to leave the sport.” It is really hard to argue that the top three riders do not deserve to be on the podium. They are separated by the slimmest margin in history (:31) and have a huge gap to the fourth rider (nearly 7:00). And the top-ten is a ‘who’s who’ of recent tour history.
Besides, I just love the sport of cycling and especially the grand tours that are at the pinnacle of it. Cycling is not only a test against oneself, but a test against other athletes in teams. The former is demonstrated in the time trials of the first and (for the general classification competition) effectively the last days of the race, both of which are often decisive in determining the overall winner. The latter plays itself out in both the tactics of the mountains that dominate the king of the mountain competition and the tactics of the bunch sprints and breakaways that lend glory to a rider or advance his standing in the points competition. When a guy is leading one of these competitions, he gets to wear a jersey so everyone on the race course can clearly identify the leader on the road. And these classifications really demonstrate the versatility of the sport, highlighting differences in capability. Ultimately, it’s both a political contest and solitary one.
I like to watch this kind of competition and I hope that it stays around for a long time.