In my previous post earlier today, I mentioned that this Tour de France was already a joke. This evening the comedy turned to tragedy.
Michael Rasmussen, the Tour's leader and winner of today's brutal stage - the last of three days in the Pyrenees - has been yanked from the Tour and fired by his team - Rabobank. He lied about his whereabouts when he missed required doping tests.
Kudos to Rabobank, by the way, though I suspect they took this action to protect their own reputation at least as much as an attempt to stand on principle.
Many cycling fans remember the 1998 Tour and the "Festina Affair" as the darkest days in the Tour's history. Only the seemingly inspirational story of Lance Armstrong's recovery from cancer and win in 1999 saved the sport from oblivion.
Well, this is worse. To have the wearer of the Yellow Jersey removed in disgrace four days before the end is beyond belief.
Pro cycling is officially dead. Or at least any semblance of credibility is dead.
And while we're on the subject, Mr. Armstrong sure is quiet about all of this. I guess it is because he is busy suing all his accusers.
As a refresher, let's look at some of the people Lance has raced/associated with:
- Tyler Hamilton - former Lance teammate - kicked off Team CSC and suspended for doping
- Floyd Landis - former Lance teammate - kicked off Team Phonak for doping (appealing) - Tour officials do NOT consider him the winner of last year's race.
- Bjarne Riis - 1996 Tour winner - former director of Team CSC when Hamilton was caught cheating - this year admitted to doping in 1996.
- Ivan Basso - Armstrong tried to recruit him over to Team Discovery a couple of years ago - suspended for two years last month for doping.
- Alexander Vinokourov - kicked out of the Tour yesterday for blood doping - he has recently been coached by the same discredited doctor - Michele Ferarri - that Armstrong relied on before his advisers told him to sever the relationship a few years ago. Ferrari is widely suspected of being the top doping doctor in cycling.
I could go on.
Armstrong has NEVER tested positive, but he has associated himself with people and with a sport that are now completely discredited. Where there is smoke...
As an advocate for the sport, his silence this year has been deafening. His absence from the discussion conspicuous.
I have defended Armstrong and cycling in published op-ed pieces over the years. What an ass I was. My office used to be a shrine to Armstrong and cycling. No more. (Actually, that was only partly due to my disgust for Armstrong and the sport of cycling. The rest of it was due to the fact that I realized that a 40+ year old man with Lance Armstrong posters was pretty sad, and no different from my Snoopy posters at age five, Spiderman posters at age 10 and Led Zeppelin posters at age 15, but I digress.)
Bottom line: Pro cycling is a gutter sport, somewhere between dog fighting and pro wrestling. Anyone associated with it in the past 10 years has only two choices:
1. Come clean, break the "code of silence" and call for reform (hear that, Lancey-boy?)
2. Ride your carbon-fiber bikes off into oblivion.
I suspect it will be the latter, in which case, call me the world's #1 professional bowling fan.