Tour de France Doping Scandal

What was shaping up to be a great Tour de France has now turned into a nightmare. Riders are being ejected left and right from the race a day ahead of the Strasbourg start as part of the fallout from Operation Puerto. Ullrich, Basso, and Mancebo, three of the top five finishers last year have been suspended from the team for being on a list of riders suspected to have been part of an elaborate Madrid-based doping ring. Other people on the list include Joseba Beloki, Oscar Sevilla, and Tyler Hamilton, who has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence since getting thrown out of the Vuelta Espana in 2004.

This is far worse than the Festina Affaire of 1998 and will produce a horrible cloud over this year’s Tour. I was really hoping to see fireworks between Ullrich and Basso. Instead, we’re going to see legal wrangling, a protesting and down peloton, and most likely a suicide or two before all this is over.

Pat McQuaid, the President of the UCI, says,

“I have to stress that everything we are dealing with at the moment is allegations. Everybody is innocent at the moment, until we go through a process which proves them guilty. That has got to be stated. These riders that are being sent home from the Tour de France today are being sent home on the presumption of innocence, but because their name is implicated in this report, they have been suspended. They have not been fired, they will continue to get paid, they have been suspended.”

in the AP article,

The UCI noted that while the probe implicated the riders, it had not yet established that they had cheated. Nevertheless, Tour organizers pushed for their exclusion and teams agreed, in keeping with their ethical charter that allows riders to be barred from racing while they are under investigation for doping.

Suspended but presumed innocent. I say let them ride; if they have product a high hemocrit during one of the in-race controls, send them packing. What is they are innocent? A year lost, an opportunity missed.

Here’s what all the cycling teams signed in 2005 regarding riders suspected of doping:

On the eve of the 2006 Tour de France all of the Team Director’s meet to decide on the current situation regarding the riders named in the Spanish doping scandal. The directors unanimously decided to uphold the code of ethics that was signed by all teams on January 1, 2005 which stated that no team would allow a rider to compete while under investigation in any doping affair. This is certainly an unfortunate situation for all of professional cycling, not just those teams and riders involved. And even though the top pre-Tour favorites have been suspended from competition, all of our Discovery Channel riders continue to maintain their focus on tomorrow’s prologue Time Trial. The entire team has prepared meticulously for this race as they have over the past seven years and we continue to have high expectations about our chances in this years Tour de France.

Another good question and answer session with Bobby Julich, an American cyclist who rides for Team CSC, Basso’s team.

No, that’s the thing that really sucks is that we have to sit here and accept this as a fact because he’s officially under investigation. There’s nothing we’ve been told at this point [that connects him]. … Obviously, that’s the first question the rest of us asked — is this true or there better be some damn good evidence against him in order to remove him? … That’s the hard part to deal with for me right now. In America, we’re used to presumed innocent. With this investigation, you’re presumed guilty. The worst thing for me will be if, three or four days from now, Ivan goes down, gives his DNA, does whatever he needs to do to clear his name, and is cleared, but the Tour has already started without him. That really is the hard part for me.

If they are guilty, their careers are effectively over. 2 year ban by WADA and 2 additional years from the ProTour is a career death sentence in cycling.

Eleven years ago, I was in Strasbourg to begin my quarter abroad in France. I remember the beautiful cathedral and getting a photo of myself taken on a cobblestone bridge. Back then, I wasn’t into photography; for the quarter, I was borrowing my Mom’s point-and-shoot film camera. I began to develop my appreciation for photo documentation in France. I’ll continue to have good memories of Strasbourg. This Tour won’t take those away. It’s just sad to see such a downer start in a town and country to which I’m connected.

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