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June 30, 2006

Why Do You Think They Call it Dope, Dope?

With the mighty Lance Armstrong gone, this year's Tour de France was shaping up to be the best race in years. Many contendors, but no single dominating star, making every stage count. That is what an endurance sporting event should be.

Unfortunately, this all changed yesterday, when Tour officials decided to clean house over the doping scandal that has marred the sport for a decade. The resullts: a number of top riders were barred from the big race, including mountain man Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, who won the Tour in 1997 and was a five-time runner up to Armstrong.

Whatever the merits of the charges--cyclists always claim innocence, and the bodies that bring these alllegations do seem overzealous--the result is clear: The Tour is already well off track, and it hasn't even begun.

The irony of the drug focus that seems to define the sport today is that for most of its history, bike racing turned a blind eye to doping. Riders at the turn of the century used to carry wine on their bikes. In the decades that followed cocaine was used regularly. In the 60s and 70s all manner of ingestibles were tolerated. It's never been a clean sport, but it was assumed that everybody was doing it, and thus there was a certain sense of equality.

Not anymore.

The only person laughing about this recent decision is American Floyd Landis, the former domestique to Armstrong who is now the anchor man for the Phonak team. His chances at victory just improved by a mile.



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