Well, we did our best. We tried hard to write Tour de France posts without referring to doping or making lame science jokes about doping in some way. But just when we thought we might make it to Paris having seen a great, competitive Tour, which could have been remembered for the ferocious attacks launched by the climbers on the way up to Tignes, the Galibier and Plateau de Beille, it now seems we have a Tour that may again be remembered for the wrong reasons.
First Michael Rasmussen, yellow jersey wearer and aspirant Tour champion hits the headlines for failing to give notice of where he was training leading up to the Tour. That in itself is no problem, he has done nothing wrong, but all of a sudden, journalists and riders are debating doping again. Then today, Alexandre Vinokourov, the hero of the race, the poster boy for the human spirit, is reported to test positive for a homologous blood transfusion. He is suspended, his team quits the Tour, and yet again, on the eve of what might have been one of THE great battles of the Tour de France - Contador vs Rasmussen on the Col d'Aubisque - we are rudely reminded of the fact that we must think twice before we celebrate any rider's performance in the Tour, especially the great ones.
What a tragedy! For the last three days, commentators Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett have done nothing but sing Vino’s praises. A true champion. We even dedicated a whole post to Vino’s remarkable Time-Trial performance in Albi on Saturday. A remarkable performance which, it now seems, was powered by blood infusions! Vino, who conjures up images of gladiators, courage, warriors and mental toughness. Vino, who stands for the guts and determination and strength of character. Of all the cyclists in the peloton, he is the one that the sport could least afford to lose to a positive drug test. Because if Vino is doping, then how are we supposed to react to a great ride from a "lesser mortal"? Forgive the dramaticism, but it’s really very sad.
Of course, we may be reacting too soon – it wouldn’t be the first time a positive test is announced by a French newspaper, only to be squashed/challenged/defied later on – remember Floyd Landis a year ago? So perhaps we should not pass judgement too soon. In fact, we know we shouldn’t. It would be nice to give him the benefit of the doubt, remaining hopeful that Saturday and yesterday were indeed examples of the depth of performance that is possible given the desire and will to win. But the point is, we now have doubts. Cycling nearly managed to pull itself out of the drug-induced malaise it was in, thanks to Soler Hernandez, Gerdemann, Contador and co. But first Rasmussen and then Vino, and we’ll step back down to join the legions of sceptics, unfortunately.
But just as the Tour goes on, so do we. And so over the next few days, we'll keep going on our plan to bring you the physiology of the Tour, and maybe we'll restrain our cynicism until later, when this is all confirmed.