The Tour de France’s tor­tured drugs his­tory

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

Lance Arm­strong blighted the start of this year’s Tour de France cycling epic with his state­ment that it would have been im­pos­si­ble to win the race in his era with­out tak­ing drugs.

Arm­strong, who won the race seven times, con­fessed last year he’d cheated his way to vic­tory, hav­ing de­nied such charges for years.

His lat­est ef­fort seemed to be an at­tempt to re­claim some moral high ground. He said he still con­sid­ered him­self a seven-time tour win­ner.

By the same logic, drugs cheats Ben John­son and Marion Jones could con­sider them­selves the 1988 and 2000 Olympic sprint cham­pi­ons.

Arm­strong has, how­ever, not been treated well by his­tory. Per­haps it’s be­cause he was so un­re­lent­ingly vi­cious and fierce in his de­nials, even tak­ing le­gal ac­tion those who sug­gested he was a doper. The race was be­ing con­sis­tently won by cheats long be­fore the Amer­i­can was born. From the 1950s, con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates were that more than 75 per cent of the rid­ers took per­for­manceen­hanc­ing drugs, a prac­tice that was banned from 1965.

The race, one of the great events on the world sports cal­en­dar, be­gan in 1903, or­gan­ised by the news­pa­per L’Auto. There were 60 starters that year. This year – the 100th edi­tion of the race – there are 219.

Drugs were used from the start. Ini­tially, al­co­hol and ether were taken to deaden cy­clists’ pain and nitro­glyc­er­ine to stim­u­late the heart.

In 1924 French broth­ers Henri and Fran­cis Pelissier ad­mit­ted us­ing co­caine, chlo­ro­form and other pills. Fran­cis said: ‘‘We keep go­ing on dy­na­mite.’’

The ex­pres­sion ‘‘No dope, no hope’’ be­came com­mon on the tour, un­til the death of English rider Tommy Simpson in 1967 caused a re­think of health is­sues re­lat­ing to drugs.

How­ever, lead­ing rid­ers con­tin­ued cheat­ing with alacrity, and of­fi­cials didn’t care. Eddy Mer­ckx, the Bel­gian le­gend, and French­man Jac­ques An­quetil won five times. An­other French hero, Bernard Thevenet won twice. All ad­mit­ted cheat­ing. Since 1990, only three rid­ers, Car­los Sas­tre of Spain (2008), Cadel Evans of Aus­tralia (2011) and Bradley Wig­gins of Eng­land (2012), have won the tour and not had a drugs as­ter­isk be­side their names.

Even Wig­gins is now un­der a cloud. He has not en­tered this year’s event, which has caused mut­ter­ing among the con­spir­acy the­o­rists.

Be­sides Arm­strong, mod­ern su­per­stars such as Marco Pan­tani, Bjarne Riis, Miguel In­durain, Tyler Hamil­ton, Alexan­dre Vi­nok­ourov, Al­berto Con­ta­dor, Jan Ull­rich, Floyd Lan­dis and Frank Sch­leck have all cheated.

In 1998 there was the in­fa­mous Festina scan­dal when an en­tire team was kicked out af­ter po­lice raids on ho­tels re­vealed wide­spread drugs use, mainly EPO.

Arm­strong’s US Postal team ran a highly or­gan­ised drugs pro­gramme, so all his team-mates have had their rep­u­ta­tions blighted. Some say the same about to­day’s Sky team, headed by pre-race favourite Chris Froome of Eng­land.

There’s much to ad­mire about the race. The scenery is fan­tas­tic, the courage of the rid­ers is awe­some, and the tra­di­tion, with the 3400km event fin­ish­ing on the Champs El­y­sees (on July 21 this year), is revered.

But there have been just too many drugs sto­ries.

Can a ‘‘clean’’ rider win? Who can say? Cer­tainly who­ever wins im­me­di­ately has the fin­ger of sus­pi­cion pointed at him.

My sug­ges­tion is to en­joy the race for what it is, but main­tain a healthy cyn­i­cism, rather like watch­ing the Amer­ica’s Cup, which pro­vides great boat rac­ing de­spite the in­volve­ment of lawyers. Sil­ver star: Pukerua Bay’s Anya Down, 7, fin­ished sec­ond out of 53 young gym­nasts at a lower North Is­land com­pe­ti­tion in Palmer­ston North on June 9. Mother Emily said the flex­i­ble young­ster stood out for her good form and pointed toes. As well as get­ting a sil­ver medal over­all, Anya came sec­ond in beam and third in her floor rou­tine. A year 3 pupil at Pukerua Bay School, Anya be­gan gym­nas­tics aged 3 and spends four hours a week prac­tis­ing with her step- 2 team at Kapiti Gym Sports.

Anya is also heav­ily in­volved in danc­ing at Porirua Dance Plus Per­for­mance Stu­dio.

She hopes to com­bine her two in­ter­ests and pur­sue rhyth­mic gym­nas­tics at Olympic level one day. Photo: AN­DREA

O’NEIL

Photo: GETTY

Still talk­ing: Lance Arm­strong has made a be­lated at­tempt to re­claim some moral high ground af­ter years of cheat­ing.

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