95th Tour de France
Stage 7 - Brioude to Aurillac - 159.0 km (98.5 mi)
11 July 2008
Two Spanish climbers of two different generations underscored the doping gap still all too apparent in the professional peloton. While 24-year-old Luis Leon Sanchez, a rider on Alejandro Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team, was battling a select group to solo in to the finish in Aurillac, results were coming back on testing performed on Tour veteran Manuel Beltran. Beltran, a 37-year-old rider who helped Lance Armstrong in three of his Tour victories, is the fourth rider from Armstrong's past teams to test positive for one or another forms of doping. There are two vastly different mindsets to what has occurred here: one type of fan asserts that the Tour is nothing but a sham; however, I feel that this most recent positive result is yet another indicator that the testing is real and is doing its job.
One might say that it distracts from the racing, and indeed it does. But the fact remains that cycling tests its athletes more than any other sport worldwide, and for more compounds than the American sports fan could even imagine. Beltran tested positive for erythropoietin, a red-blood-cell-producer which, in synthetic form, is often given to cancer patients after chemotherapy. The benefits gained from EPO for cyclists and other endurance athletes comes in the fact that the body, with more red blood cells, can carry more oxygen throughout the body, allowing it to perform more efficiently. Could this potentially help someone in, say, basketball? Certainly... but there's no test for it. While it might not be the right drug for baseball or football, which require more short bursts of energy than sustained production... yet an athlete, in his quest for glory, could easily attempt to use it to gain an advantage in either of these sports. After all, people long thought it insane that steroids could possibly do anything for a baseball player. Yet there is no proactive testing on the part of either leagues or teams in the United States.
Cycling is taking that proactive step. Teams like Garmin-Chipotle, Columbia, CSC and Astana are at the forefront of internal testing controls to supplement those in- and out-of-competition tests conducted at races through the auspices of national agencies and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Now the UCI has even implemented a biological passport in which different key blood and chemical markers are taken repeatedly over time, allowing testers to quickly identify any discrepancies from a norm. And, while a guy like Shawne Merriman can come back to take a Pro Bowl slot, someone like Beltran (or even Alessandro Petacchi) will automatically face a two-year ban and the derision of the rest of the peloton.
However, Beltran's story in no way diminishes the accomplishments of either Sanchez or those other riders who, throughout the run-in to the Tour and throughout the race itself, continue to test negative. During the Tour, testing is conducted each day -- the stage winner, the holder of each competition's jersey, the most aggressive rider, any riders with red flags and several random riders each day are tested for steroids, corticoids (all those cortisone shots football players take? BANNED in cycling...), cannabinoids, and all other manner of -oids which could ever be imagined. Need some cold medicine? Better make sure it has no pseudoephedrine in it -- there's a two year ban. Need an inhaler for asthma? Don't take one too many puffs -- there's a two year ban for salbutamol. The list goes on and on...
Today's stage was a beautiful masterwork by a young rider given the freedom to soar. Sanchez, with today's ride, now sits only four points out of the lead for the King of the Mountains jersey. Kim Kirchen retained his yellow jersey AND increased his lead on the green points jersey -- a dominance to this point which looks positively Merckx-esque. Decry Beltran's doping, certainly... but don't forget to give these athletes their accolades. We cannot simultaneously villify athletes for their indiscretions without recompense simply because they ply their trade on another continent and forgive those athletes who commit their crimes on domestic soil without being true spectating hypocrites. If this Tour is a sham, then every Chargers' game that featured Merriman that season is also a sham, as is every game the Yankees played with a doped yet repentant Jason Giambi in the lineup.
There will always be athletes who find it necessary to seek that synthetic edge, regardless of which sport he or she contests. But sporting events are bigger than any one athlete. The Tour de France has survived its lumps, from Tom Simpson's amphetamine-laced death on Mont Ventoux in 1967 to Michel Pollentier's pre-Whizzinator prosthesis, from L'Affaire Festina in 1998 to Operacion Puerto in 2006, and it continues on ever stronger to this day. The sport evolves, as does is testing protocol. This year's Tour features the most stringent testing of any sporting event in history -- the fact that our first positive hasn't come until STAGE 7, to be honest, should be cause for celebration. The Tour CAN be contested clean, and the teams at the forefront of the fight against doping are proving that fact as the dominant forces in the first week. May their example drive the last remnants of the Beltran generation out of the peloton, and Vive Le Tour!!!
Results - Stage 7
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 3.52.53 (40.964 km/h)
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner -- +0.06
- Filippo Pozzato (ITA) Liquigas
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne
- Oscar Pereiro (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne
- Samuel Sanchez (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi
- Josep Jufre (ESP) Saunier Duval
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- all s.t.
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 24.30.41
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- +0.06
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner -- +0.16
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle -- +0.44
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank -- +1.03
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +1.12
- David Millar (GBR) Garmin-Chipotle -- +1.14
- Stijn Devolder (BEL) Quick Step -- +1.21
- Oscar Pereiro (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- both s.t.
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 119 pts
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 91
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 90
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 87
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 72
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 66
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 62
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- 55
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 51
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 49
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- David de la Fuente (ESP) Saunier Duval - 28 pts
- Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Cofidis -- 27
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 27
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 24
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval-Scott -- 20
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 18
- Josep Jufre (ESP) Saunier Duval -- 18
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 16
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 14
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- 14
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- 14.05.28
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +0.37
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +0.46
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +0.59
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- +1.40
- Iouri Trofimov (RUS) Bouygues Telecom -- +2.20
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- +2.31
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- +6.03
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +12.32
- Trent Lowe (AUS) Garmin-Chipotle -- +24.10