Doping scandals mar cycling year—again

Monday, December 27, 2010
PARIS (AP)—In many ways, cycling’s year was summed up by two key days. The first was when Alberto Contador took the Tour de France lead with a clever attack on a steep uphill climb in the Pyrenees. The other came just 48 hours later, when drug testers took a urine sample from the future Tour winner that contained traces of a banned substance.
In what was regarded as the defining moment of the Tour, Contador’s attack helped him drop runner-up Andy Schleck in the very tough climb of the Port de Bales during stage 15.
Schleck actually attacked first, but his chain came off and the three-time Tour winner sped ahead—taking the yellow jersey from his Luxembourg rival and gaining a 39-second advantage that would become his exact margin of overall victory a few days later on the Champs Elysees.
Many observers criticized the move, saying Contador had broken the sport’s unwritten rule about not taking advantage of unlucky breaks a rider can’t control—especially when he was wearing yellow.
The epic battle between Contador and Schleck during arguably the most thrilling Tour since Lance Armstrong won the fifth of his record-seven titles in 2003 at the expense of Jan Ullrich, was widely seen as the birth of a new great rivalry.
Fans and pundits cheered for the two champs and were bracing for a mouthwatering new era for a sport still reeling from years and years of doping scandals. But the celebrations didn’t last for Contador.
Only two months after triumphing in the heat of the French summer, the news broke that Contador, who also won the Tours of Spain and Italy in 2008, had been provisionally suspended by cycling’s governing body after small amounts of the banned muscle-building and fat-burning drug clenbuterol where found in one of his Tour samples.
It later emerged that a urine sample taken from Contador also showed abnormally high levels of plastic residues that could indicate he received a transfusion of his own blood during the race.
A tearful Contador denied everything, claiming his positive test resulted from eating contaminated meat. Whether or not he is eventually convicted of doping, great harm was done.
If Tour officials do strip his title, Contador would be just the second cyclist to be forced to relinquish it. The first was American Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title after a positive test.
UCI president Pat McQuaid continued to claim that cycling is the “cleanest of all sports,” while Italy’s anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri said in October he is convinced that all cyclists are doping.
A decision on whether Contador doped is expected early next year. But WADA and the UCI could appeal if they feel that justice was not done. That means Contador’s case could end up with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Should Contador be banned, next year’s Tour could be deprived of its two most influential figures after Armstrong said last summer’s Tour was his last.
The American got off to a strong start but blew a tire on cobblestones in stage 3 then failed to recover in time from three crashes during the eighth stage, just before the tough Alpine climbs.
“With the first crash, my body never felt the same after that, and the second was the nail in the coffin,” Armstrong said. “So you could look at it like that, and yeah, it was one (Tour) too many.”
Armstrong finished in 23rd place, nearly 40 minutes behind Contador. He has not officially retired and will compete in smaller races next season as an ambassador for the fight against cancer.
Armstrong’s last ride in the race which made his name and wealth started amid controversy following accusations by Landis, his former teammate, that he had used performance-enhancing drugs to win.
The allegations against Armstrong and others ignited a federal investigation in the United States that reached new heights last month when American agents traveled to France for two days of talks with police officers and other officials from various European countries.
Armstrong has denied using drugs and his lawyers said the investigation is a huge waste of taxpayers’ dollars.
Despite the years of drug scandals, the Tour de France still attracted massive crowds, worldwide television audiences and reported increased income. In Luxembourg, a new team found big sponsors and a budget big enough to lure away some of the sport’s biggest stars from rival squads.
The new outfit reunites the Schleck brothers and Fabian Cancellara, and their main objective will be victory in the Tour de France.
Cancellara was accused in 2010 of using an electric bike after his wins in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but nothing was proven. The accusations prompted the UCI to implement bike checks during the Tour, and Cancellara, who was cleared and escaped sanctions, eventually won a fourth time trial world title in September in Australia, where Thor Hushovd powered to victory in the road race.
Also worth noting in 2010 was Ivan Basso’s victory in the Giro d’Italia for his first major title since returning from a two-year doping ban. Several other riders who served doping-related suspensions, including Denmark’s Michael Rasmussen and Italy’s Riccardo Ricco, are set to return next year.
Ricco, who tested positive for blood-booster CERA at the 2008 Tour de France after winning two stages, signed with the Vacansoleil team.
“I’ll just say that the leaders of this team were naive,” McQuaid said. “If I am the sports director, Ricco never joins my team.”


Post a Comment