Monday, 30 July 2007

Drugs

I can't help being a little disappointed about the drugs scandal that came to light in the later stages of the tour. I had just watched what looked like a fantastic ride by Alexandra Vinokourov, the pre-race favourite. In the earlier stages of the race he had been knocked off his bike and badly hurt but continued cycling with 55 stitches in his knees. He had struggled up the hills in the first stages in the Alps and looked all but finished but then as if by a miracle, managed to ride a fantastic time trial a day or so later and won the stage. It didn't do much for his overall chances of winning the race as he was already well behind, but seemed to restore his pride and his motivation. The first day in the Pyrenees he had seemed to be struggling again but the following day he was recovered, broke away from the main contenders (as he was no threat to them overall they let him go for a while) and won the stage again, finishing at the top of the Col de Peyresourde, an infamous haute categorie (beyond classification) Tour de France climb. I admired him at that moment for his determination, his ability to fight back, his ability to ride through the pain until a good day came and sheer bloody mindedness! I heard later that he had been sent home that night and his team withdrawn from the race because his blood test taken after the time-trial had shown that he had someone else's blood in him as well as his own! (Blood doping is the practice of illicitly boosting the number of red blood cells (RBCs) in the circulation in order to enhance athletic performance. Because they carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, more RBCs in the blood can improve an athlete’s aerobic capacity and stamina. You can use your own blood, collected a few weeks earlier or get it from someone else. This is more risky as it is easier to detect).

The blood taken after the mountain stage has also tested positive for blood doping and it turned out that what I had been watching was someone so determined to get his share of glory and his win that he was prepared to cheat. On the same day a Cofidis rider (maybe one of the ones pictured below) had tested positive for testosterone and his whole team were sent home (he at least had the courtesy to admit it when caught). Finally, Michael Rasmussen, someone who I have watched and admired over the years, was sent home by his team because he lied about his whereabouts in the weeks preceding the tour and so missed four drugs tests. So as well as some of the riders I feel a bit bruised and battered with disappointment by the performance of these big names. I don't know what makes such an athlete decide to risk the credibility of his whole career by doing one stupid thing. Some of them have lots of excuses (the most bizarre one from Vinokourov was that his earlier injury had resulted in his thighs getting filled with extra blood, although that doesn't explain why he had another man's blood in his veins) but mostly they are unconvincing. It was great to see one of the youngest riders, Alberto Contador, take the yellow jersey in Paris but I couldn't help wondering whether his ability to keep speeding up going up a mountain with more that a 10% gradient was just down to youth and natural talent or fueled by something else as yet undetectable. I am sorry Alberto if I have insulted you but you can't blame me for being a bit jaded.

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