The Tour de France starts next week, and has the potential to be the most interesting Tour for years. It is the only sporting event I have any interest in so bear with me…
The course has been well planned, especially the idea of fighting out the last but one day on Mont Ventoux, to keep us all engrossed to the end. The route studiously manages to avoid most of north and west France, preferring to venture into Monaco, Spain and Andorra, for reasons that aren’t completely clear.
Perhaps the organisers like to tie in the Tour dates with their annual summer holidays.
Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre, winners from the last two years, will both be there – as of course will be Lance Armstrong, making a much publicised (and much debated) return from retirement. All should add to the excitement.
But wait, is that a storm cloud ahead?
Ah yes. The knowledge that every year, just when things start to get exciting, we learn that the leaders are drugged up to the eyeballs with EPO. Statements like ‘A stunning victory by Landis’ or ‘an incredible climb by Rasmussen’ are usually followed shortly after by the bad news that all is not well, their blood is thicker than treacle, and the prize has been snatched back.
This does take quite a lot of the pleasure out of watching.
I saw an interesting report that pretty much demonstrated that the cheating ‘with a vengeance’ started in 1993. For example, the route of the Alpe d’Huez, one of the great mountain stages of the Tour de France, always took 42-45 minutes before 1993 and always 37-39 minutes after that. Not a slow steady improvement, but a sudden ‘now we can all cycle much faster’ change.
The organisers (and spectators) are hoping that this will be the breakthrough year, when everyone rides ‘clean’ for a change. They have hoped the same for at least the last 10 years so it’s hard to be optimistic.
And of course, Armstrong, Castre, Contador etc are among those with the ‘new super-improved’ cycling times, so it is also hard to know whether they are part of a new breed of super cyclist – or whether they are also sneaking off to dark places for the occasional nocturnal blood transfusion.
But however it goes, good luck to all the good guys in the race and a big boo-hiss to all the cheats.
Personally I cheer for the Francaise des Jeux team – not because they have much chance of winning anything, they never do, but because I have the vague impression that the reason they never win is because they don’t cheat. And that’s good enough for me.