Friday, July 28, 2006

Landis to be stripped of Tour de France victory?

Why is it that the British media generally ignores cycling as a sport, treating it like some kind of foreign minority fetish like tiddlywinks or bog snorkelling, yet when there’s a major scandal in the sport, it gets headline exposure? The coverage of this year’s Tour de France on terrestrial television and radio was practically non-existent. When the race was won in style by Floyd Landis after an incredible comeback and an amazing performance in one of the Alpine stages, despite carrying a painful hip injury, the main evening news devoted about 3 seconds to the event. One radio newsreader even referred to him as Lloyd Flandis. Now Landis has tested positive for testosterone and may be stripped of his title pending confirmation of the dope test. All of a sudden it’s a major scoop. Landis is on the front pages of today’s Guardian and Financial Times (curiously enough) with the usual fallen hero bullshit that this story has become. There’s even a thread on Slugger O’Toole about it.

There are two possible explantations. Either Landis has a natural excess of male hormones in his system or he’s cheated by taking a banned substance. If the cycling community’s worst fears are confirmed, it will be another setback to a sport already struggling to clean up its tainted image. It will however not come as a surprise. The Festina scandal of 1998 was possibly the Tour’s darkest hour. Since then the sport had almost redeemed itself by acquiring a kind of glamour. Lance Armstrong took on a mythical status as the underdog triumphing in the face of adversity after overcoming testicular cancer to win a record 7 tours. But Armstrong himself has been accused of doping. Despite never having failed a drugs test, the rumours just won’t go away. It seems that the expulsion of a number of key riders including pre-race favourite Jan Ullrich prior to this year’s Tour was just the tip of the iceberg.

The former cyclist turned sports journalist Paul Kimmage delves into the murky world of doping in cycling in his controversial book A Rough Ride. Kimmage claims that drug abuse in cycling was universal. Team managers pratically forced their riders to take drugs. There were ways and means of avoiding detection and it effectively boiled down to the choice of staying clean and not winning or falling in with the crowd by taking the forbidden fruit. No other sport places such huge demands on the human body, so many say that drug abuse is inevitable. Imagine cycling 100 km per day over a three-week period during which time you climb the highest mountains in Europe on a bike. Not an easy task. It seems that professional cycling faces an equally difficult uphill struggle to stamp out the substance abuse and corruption that is rife within the sport.

4 comments:

Lorainne said...

I don't know a lot about cycling - Is drug taking in this sport more rife than in any other?? If so any ideas why?? Do they carry out more stringent tests or are the participants just more dishonest??
Is it possible he could just have a lot of testosterone as surely everyone has different levels in their body and a good sportsman is likely to have a lot naturally?? Or am I being naive??

northernsole said...

It's safe to say that when it comes to doping in sport cyclists are the worst culprits. in the 1980s this was an accepted part of culture when use of the blood-thickening agent EPO was rife. This is partially due to the sheer physical endurance demanded of riders which is unmatched in other sports. For years the authorities turned a blind eye to this and although there have been attempts to clean up cycling, much more work still needs to be done.

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