Say It Ain't So!My interest in cycling road races began around 2000/2001. Lance Armstrong had just reeled off his second Tour de France victory and general interest road cycling in the United States seemed to be making a steady come back against its upstart cousin the mountain bike. All seemed good in the world of professional bike racing. Although there were whispers that incidents of doping, chemical or biological cheating, continued in the peloton, the shame of the Festina Scandal of 1998 was fading.
Flash forward to 2007...
With all the strides against doping and performance enhancing drugs that those involved in the Protour have taken, it seems that European peloton is in even a bleaker state than it was in 1998. The first major name to fall from Operation Puerto was 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich. Although he has maintained his innocence, bags of blood have been linked to him via DNA sampling...not looking good Jan.
Next came the 2006 Giro d'Italia winner, Ivan Basso. Although initially cleared by the Italian Olympic committee, CONI, Basso after much pressure has admitted that he was involved with Dr. Fuentes, the doctor at the center of the Spanish doping investigation. More discouraging than the revelation that Basso was part of Operation Puerto, was the fact that he had lied about it for six months after joining Team Discovery and then stated that he only "attempted doping", but never actually did it. It seems that Basso is used the same lexicon of excuses that Bill Clinton uses.
All this time we were subjected to the trial of Floyd Landis, 2006 Tour de France winner, maybe. It seems that there were issues with his testosterone level after his miraculous win on that year's stage 17. Although tests showed that his levels were not abnormal, his testosterone to epitestosterone ratio was extremely high and above the allowable limit of 4:1. Landis' ratio was at 11:1.
Now, after an avalanche of confessions of past doping discretion's, comes the admission by Bjarne Riis, 1996 Tour de France winner, that he doped during the race. He has said that he is willing to give back his yellow jersey. How noble, how about all the prize money and secondary income that had come from his Tour win, gonna give that back too?
Hmmm...let me see the 1996 Tour winner, Riis, confessed to doping, Ullrich Mr. DNA Connection To Operation Puerto came in second and Richard Virenque who after two years of denying his utilization of doping tearfully admitted in 2000 to doping, came in third.
I am not sure what good all these sudden admissions of doping is doing. Are they volunteering to lead sessions with young up and coming neo-pros on the evils of doping? Are they giving back their earnings that have potentially inflated because of the performance enhancing practices? Or are they trying to clear their consciousnesses before someone else rats them out?
I love cycling. I love the feel of lactate acid flooding through my legs as I crest a climb. I love thinking my legs are pistons as I power over miles of flats. I love when the salty sweat slips into my eyes stinging them. I love watching bike races because I thought I knew how hard the effort was. Apparently I was mistaken...