Sunday, August 6, 2006

Does the Tour de France Matter Anymore?

A half-dozen favorites kicked off before the start, every winner under drug accusation and now a win about to be taken away--does anyone really give a damn anymore?

Floydlandis Does anyone really care? This most elegant and awe-inspiring contest of individual will and physical endurance has so sullied itself in drug abuse, both proven and accused, that it’s falling apart under its own deficiencies.
Lance Armstrong may end up holding three records
  • Only man to win seven (consecutive) times
  • Most accused of drug abuse without proof
  • Titleholder at the collapse of the event.
Oscarpereiro Okay, maybe the last isn’t likely, although he may well be the last definitive winner. If Floyd Landis is put down for drug use, as is probable, Spaniard Oscar Pereiro will get the kissing-your-sister elevation to winner. A dreary way to tack up the prize in your trophy-room, as a default by drug-test.
No victory laps, no champagne, no kiss on the cheek by a French babe as the world cheers—just a win.
Pereiro seems, as does everyone who checked in early on this issue, to have a high degree of regard and personal admiration for Landis.
“While I don’t receive a fax confirming a win, I’m not going to celebrate anything. I have too much respect for Landis to do otherwise.”
But cycling is as self-serving a sport as any other, a big-money draw in Europe, where Landis’s team spotted him $2.5 million for the win. Endorsements by brands (not already committed to Lance Armstrong) were likely to add more millions.
Tsunami is the metaphor of choice.
Floydlandis2 As quickly as fame, money and his fascinating life story rolled across the sports pages of world media, so much faster have they sucked his name and reputation back out to sea. Landis was fired by the team who no doubt had a hand in slipping him the mickey that cost him the title.
Standing firmly behind him until they suddenly disappeared, Phonak's was as cynical a move as pretending womanhood to escape the Titanic. Anything for a buck in the world of sponsorship.
Phonak, is the Swiss sponsor of Landis’ team and they ostensibly replaced the team management in 2005 because they were gaining an untenable reputation as dopers. According to the AP,
The International Cycling Union, the sport's governing body, refused to issue Phonak a racing license for 2005 because of the team's doping record. Three Phonak riders - Hamilton, Oscar Camenzind and Santi Perez - were all found guilty of doping violations in 2004 and fired. The team was only allowed to race after appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled last year that Phonak should have a two-year license.
Andy Ris, who prefers sunny weather and is the owner of Phonak (a Swiss hearing-aid manufacturer) hears without any aid at all, when it comes to damage done to his brand.
"Think hard before you get involved in cycling, because there are never any guarantees when it comes to doping. Where there's money, there's doping."
Phonak Too late to think hard, Andy. Only time to duck quickly. Landis, who may or may not have been using illegal substances and may or may not have even known he was enhanced, has been universally dropped like the hottest of potatoes. Suddenly, his upcoming hip-replacement operation is compared to Armstrong’s victory over cancer, as though he was attempting to emulate Lance. Equally abruptly, his doggedness and up and down career—a matter of some celebration and presumed ‘proof’ of clean competition—is disparaged, along with other aspects of his rise.
Others in the sport, the guys you peddle against, are pretty good references when it comes to who might be capable of competing unfairly. In that regard (not that it matters in the long run) Landis has the respect of his competitors.
It would be a tragedy, if only the world gave a damn. But Floyd Landis will be yesterday’s news in an eyewink, a mere footnote to the miserable decline of a once-famous and once-honored French bicycle race.
The Tour de Syringe is on its way out.
The Masters golf tournament could hardly survive if, just prior to tee-time, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson were all ushered off the course and banned for hitting the long-ball under the influence. Yet just prior to the Tour de France, favorites Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Oscar Sevilla, along with manager Rudy Pevenage were all suspended by T-Mobile on doping charges. With Roberto Heras riding out a two-year ban after winning the Tour Spain in February, the winners of three of cycling's major Tours are banned or facing bans.
Meanwhile, Barry Bonds takes Babe Ruth’s record while pumped full of steroids. Meanwhile, the Olympics are constantly under threat of doping scandals and nearly all professional sports (in which stamina or power is a factor) are suspect. Meanwhile, the continuing drama centers not on cleaning things up, but finding drug enhancements that are untraceable. Which means, as soon as a way to trace the untraceable catches up with dopers, a whole new starring cast bites the dust.
Not given much coverage is the dilemma of the clean athlete. What does one do in the sport of choice without enhancement? Settle for a lifetime of second-best? How often can one peddle one’s heart out, hit the cross-court backhand or throw fastballs against the dopers before giving in or getting out?
More to the point, can the public be expected to get excited about the Tour de France when, from Armstrong’s first win to Landis’ controversy, the race is run in rain or shine, but always under the cloud of substance abuse.
Maybe an answer is to usher in an anything-goes era to professional, as well as (supposedly) amateur sports and may the best prescribed athlete win. The first ever Olympic games were held almost 800 years before Christ and the first winner (according to my scorecard) was Karoibas, a guy who beat out all the current favorites in the Stadion Race.
And how do are we supposed to know what he was on?
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