July 8, 2008

Tour de France

The tour started on Saturday, and it is a little different this year. Professional cycling is under a huge cloud of doping suspicion, and they are doing what they can to clean up the sport.

Floyd Landis, the winner in 2006 has lost his last appeal and has been officially stripped of the win. Alberto Contador, the winner from last year, and Levi Leipheimer who came in third, are on a different team (Astana) this year. Team Astana withdrew from the Tour de France in 2007 after their team leader Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping. Even though all the riders and team directors are new this year, and the only thing the same this year is the sponsor, Team Astana was not allowed to participate this year.

Several teams have put in place their own controls to try to root out any cheaters. Team Garmin-Chipotle tests its riders every 14 days, and is using a new method.

"...rather than testing for individual drugs, the testing establishes baseline biological markers for each rider—blood composition and hormone levels. ACE can quickly identify any variance from this baseline without needing to identify a specific doping product. By watching for variances from a baseline, the testing eliminates the cat-and-mouse game in which athletes and their doctors constantly search for new performance-enhancing drugs before tests have been invented to identify them. To use an analogy: by watching for changes in baseline biological markers, the testing agency does not have to look for the needle in a haystack, but instead only has to identify changes to the overall height of the haystack."
One other bright spot in this year's Tour is that there are two American teams competing. Both Team Garmin-Chipotle and Team Columbia are competing in their first Tour de France. This is the first time that two American teams have competed in the same year.

I'm still Tivoing the 5am broadcasts. The doping scandals has certainly taken a bit of the shine off the event, but I still love it. Unfortunately there will be that little doubt in the back of my mind when a cyclist breaks away and does an incredible ride. Hopefully last year's Tour will be the one that brought about sufficient change to save the sport.

Tour de France - Brand New Start

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