What a bunch of cycling dope(r)s
Go to the Tour de France's official website and check out the standings after the 11th stage, which ended Wednesday.
The first thing you will see is a roll of honor, listing the leader by the various categories of jersey that rider would be wearing at the start of Thursday's 12th stage -- yellow (overall leader), green (sprint points), red polka dot (climber) and white (best young rider, up to 25 years of age.)
By Thursday morning, that list had become a roll of dishonor in a sport that brings shame on itself with relentless stupidity.
The rider who would have been wearing the polka dot and white jerseys, Riccardo Ricco of Italy, was booted from the race after an "A'' sample tested positive for EPO. His entire Spanish-based team, Saunier Duval, immediately withdrew from the Tour.
Two Spanish riders,
Miguel Manuel Beltran of Liquigas (a teammate of Lance Armstrong during his final three triumphs), and Moises Duenas Nevado of Baroloworld, also are gone from the race after EPO positives.
So the excitement I was beginning to feel, in spite of knowing better, for the achievements of an old friend, Christian VandeVelde of Lemont, Ill., has turned to my usual disgust over a sport with far too many athletes whose stupidity surpasses belief.
Christian took Chicago Tribune readers along for the ride with a wonderfully insightful insider's diary in 1999, when he rode on Armstrong's team in the first of his seven straight Tour wins.
I edited his diary every day, and by the end of the Tour, the editing consisted of a few commas and periods, so skilled had Christian become at describing melting roads, meals eaten on the fly, the daily routine of a rider and the staggering difficulty of the task.
After an entire career spent as a domestique -- a servant -- for other riders, Christian became the leader of his Garmin-Chipotle team during the 2008 Tour, and he once again is filing dispatches to the Tribune.
With the Alps and a final time trial ahead, he is in third overall, just 38 seconds behind leader Cadel Evans of Australia.
Garmin-Chipotle, formerly Slipstream until the high-profile sponsors arrived this year, has made its reason for being an attempt to show elite cycling can be clean.
But Saunier Duval's leadership also had consistently said it was committed to cycling without doping.
Although apparently not cycling without dopes like Ricco, who was second in the 2008 Tour of Italy before winning two stages and standing ninth overall in the Tour de France.
Now the team has been forced to issue a statement announcing its suspension of activities until the Ricco case is clarified.
And people undoubtedly will question how VandeVelde has gone from a Tour also-ran whose past finishes in Tours were 85th (1999) 56th (2004), 24th (2006) and 25th (2007) to podium contender at age 32, even if some of the difference obviously comes from his changed stature in the team pecking order.
And the dynamic of the final mountain changes likely is dramatically changed by Ricco's absence, since he won the first stage in the Pyrenees and finished sixth in the other.
So here we are, watching another Tour with serious credibility issues, leading me to two more issues:
1.) The Tour began with 198 riders trying to shake a decade of doping scandals. Three have tested positive for EPO. So everyone says, "Here they go again.''
Baseball began the season with 750 players trying to shake a decade of doping scandals. Not a single active Major League player has tested positive this season.
Think baseball is any cleaner than cycling, which is making the Sisyphean effort to combat doping? Or do you think, as I do, that its doping-control efforts remain farcical, but fans just don't care?
2.) Two of this year's EPO positives at the Tour were leaked to the French newspaper, L'Equipe. This has been a pattern for several years, despite anti-doping rules about confidentiality until officials reveal a positive.
While I applaud the French journalists' reporting skills, I cannot help but wonder about the ethics of the French anti-doping officials and lab doing the testing.
Defrocked 2006 Tour champion Floyd Landis made the same argument, and while I am convinced he is guilty of doping (for reasons my colleague, Alan Abrahamson, laid out clearly in his nbcolympics.com blog), something clearly is wrong with the way the French are handling these cases.
I just asked the World Anti-Doping Agency for its feelings on the leaks, and this is part of what WADA CEO David Howman said in an e-mailed statement:
"The only organization that can match the anonymous sample to an athlete is the one under whose jurisdiction the test was conducted. WADA is disappointed by any breach of confidentiality that may occur during the results management process. Any breach is unacceptable."
Just another reason why what once was cycling's greatest event has become nothing more than the Tour de Farce.
-- Philip Hersh
Photo: Riccardo Ricco (center) of Italy is taken away by French police earlier today after testing postive for EPO at the start of the 12th stage of the Tour de France from Lavenalet to Narbonne. Credit: Papon/Presse Sports via US PRESSWIRE