In the third week of the Tour de France, the focus should be on the riders, particularly this year as the top competitors have been waiting for the mountains to make their moves. But again, much of the press has been about what they call the “real” tour, the drug and doping that’s been part of cycling since anybody can remember.
Dave Kindred of the Sporting News wrote a scathing indictment of the Tour in the NFL preview issue, claiming that the final week of the tour is the time French authorities are waiting to raid the teams and expose the rampant drug use. Three-time Tour winner Greg Lemond has said that doping is a part of the business and his discussions with Lance Armstrong have never elicited a denial by the Texan. Lemond is right when he says that Armstrong’s performance is “either the greatest comeback or the greatest fraud in the history of sports.”
Fans of the Tour or even just fans of sport have a large investment in Armstrong, his team, and the rest of the competition of the Tour. Major international corporations including Nike, AMD and Subaru have millions of dollars invested in the Tour, and Armstrong personally. The riders are tested and retested everyday. Armstrong has proclaimed to be clean every day during the tour and reiterates his position in his books. Certainly his quest to become the greatest rider of all time by winning six Tours has spurred some jealousy among other riders, fans and the European press.
One television crew tried to gain access to Armstrong’s hotel room last week during the tour, apparently trying to go through his stuff, looking for doping evidence. In 1998, French authorities blew up the Tour, raiding the teams and exposing evidence of drug use throughout the entire tour.
Allegedly, the testing procedures have rid the Tour of drug use, but Kindred contends that the drug use has just become more sophisticated, avoiding detection by current testing procedures. It would be incredibly disappointing to find out that Armstrong, and his comrades are doing incredible things, and it’s all fake.
But there is another side to the equation. Could it be that Armstrong and his coach, Chris Carmichael have discovered another training method that’s just better than what’s been done before? Armstrong has a completely different approach to the Tour, planning each stage, preparing his body to adapt to each climb, time trial or sprint. They work on things like weight to power ratio, pedal cadence and heart rate and carbohydrate and protein intake.
Armstrong has also assembled the strongest team in the history of the Tour, with each man knowing his role and accepting that their job is to help Lance win. In exchange for this, Armstrong distributes his winnings among the team, not accepting any of the prize money. A small nod to the work the Postal team does over the three weeks of the Tour.
I admit, I’m a fan, and have great admiration for anybody who tests their limits and finds how good he can be. But I’m not naive and know the whole thing could come crashing down. I just hope not.