Michael Rasmussen finally got found out yesterday
I really didn’t want to pull my laptop out of the bag this morning. In truth I’m not sure that I actually wanted to do anything this morning.
Outside of my hotel, Lourdes was still bathed in sunshine, the faithful still occupied in idle chatter on their way to mass or in search of a memento to take home, all hoping that each day in this town will take them closer to heaven. But for me, each hour seems to be moving closer and closer to a living hell.
The thought of having to talk again today for 5 hours about the sport I love is almost too much to bear.
Not only has the Vino gone sour on the Tour de France but the antipasti have poisoned the Cofidis team and the Chicken has been taken straight off the menu for the sake of the race’s health.
I am not naïve or stupid about this sport but it appears that some involved in cycling still are. Just 2 days ago, following Alexandre Vinokourov’s remarkable win into Loudenvielle-Le Louron, the headline in the French sports daily L’Equipe, quoting the Kazakh, proclaimed: “I Deserve Respect”
What respect would that be then Alexandre? Don’t you realise that the days of your definition of ‘respect’ are over? How am I meant to respect a man too stupid to realise that as a stage winner, team leader and pre-race favourite he had nowhere to hide?
An Italian colleague of mine suggested yesterday that riders, teams and doctors can, in truth, only be branded ‘stupid’ if they get caught but he is wrong.
He is wrong because if those involved in professional cycling decide to continue playing Russian roulette with the testing system and cheat, as Alexandre Vinokourov, Christian Moreni and Michael Rasmussen have done, they will end up not just blowing their own brains out but covering everyone else with their blooded remains.
Sitting on the plane back to home today will be Bradley Wiggins, an outspoken critic of dopers, his career compromised by a team mate’s actions. He is an Olympic and World Champion, has a wife and 2 children and fights every day to show what can be achieved as a clean athlete in the sport that defines not just his working life but what he is. Why should he be punished for the actions of an aging rider?
But punished he will be and the sad fact is that in this fire fight between those who dope and those who fight doping many innocent lives will be destroyed in the hail of bullets.
Cycling in the 21st century is a sport that survives on the financial support of global sponsors and the symbiotic relationship between brand exposure and television coverage. Already German public television has withdrawn from the Tour de France and others will follow. Make no mistake, television broadcasters run businesses and cycling will be dropped like a hot brick in favour of sports with less heritage, less beauty, less grace but above all less scandal.
So what then will make cycling attractive to sponsors? Nothing.
That is the stark reality that should stare each and everyone in cycling square in the face each time they load the gun ready to play, or accept, the game of doping chance. It’s not just about them anymore, it’s about everyone.
Is this Tour de France a tipping point? I sincerely hope so. I hope that finally the pendulum is swinging towards those intent on making this sport one that will continue for another 100 years. When that pendulum gets within their reach they must grab in and nail it so fast to the wall that it can never, ever swing back again.