Can The Tour De France Outrun Doping Scandals?
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
The Tour de France begins tomorrow, and it faces an uphill climb to restore its creditability after a series of high-profile doping scandals. Last year, a race leader was pulled from the competition four days before the finish for misrepresenting his whereabouts during a drug test. This year's team to beat was not invited back because of doping allegations related to last year's Tour. And just this week, the disqualified 2006 winner, American Floyd Landis, learned that he has to pay $100,000 towards the legal fees of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Joe Lindsey is a contributing editor for Bicycling Magazine, and he's in France to cover this year's race. Good morning.
Mr. JOE LINDSEY (Contributing Editor, Bicycling Magazine): Good morning, Ari.
SHAPIRO: You've been covering this race for more than 10 years, and I have to ask, with all the doping scandals, how does it feel this year? Is it less exciting and thrilling to be there covering this?
Mr. LINDSEY: I think there's a sense of apprehension going in that we need at least one year where things run a little bit more smoothly. That said, I think there's still a level of healthy anticipation towards this year race, and I think it will be a very wide open and unpredictable race.
SHAPIRO: Well, tell me about what the Tour is doing to help try to turn these things around.
Mr. LINDSEY: The Tour is actually in the midst of a fairly large political break with the organizing body for the sport, in large part over the doping issues. One of the things that they're doing is they are putting on the race with their own level of sanctioning from the French Cycling Association…
SHAPIRO: And is that higher than the level of sanctioning that the large organization would have had?
Mr. LINDSEY: No. The French Cycling Federation is actually a part of the larger International Governing Body of Cycling. That has actually caused a few problems as far as the anti-doping tests go, because the French have had to set up their own system.
SHAPIRO: Well, it sounds like the Tour going on its own is making things more complicated.
Mr. LINDSEY: In some ways, the Tour going on its own does not help solve the doping problem because we don't have all the resources brought to bear that we could. The Tour, however, feels that it and the French Cycling Federation have more capability, more creditability, perhaps, to run these kinds of things.
SHAPIRO: You know, if people do go completely clean this year, will it still be a good race?
Mr. LINDSEY: Yeah, I think so. I mean, the saying goes that if you're going up the mountain at 40 kilometers an hour, it's not any more exciting than if you're going up at 30 kilometers an hour. The point is the relative distance between the racers and the relative struggle between them. Ironically, if we take the 2006 Tour as an example, many observers feel that that was one of the cleanest Tours in memory. And you could see that by the unpredictable nature of the racing. One day, Floyd Landis is off in the weeds, the next day he's charging back.
SHAPIRO: Well, but the example you just gave, he charged back after he allegedly doped that night, right?
Mr. LINDSEY: Yeah, and that's the thing is what he was caught for doping with was an old school drug. It was testosterone. A lot of what we've seen in the past decade or so is what's called oxygen vector doping, which is basically a way to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. And what we got out of that was these automatic performances where there was never any doubt about what was going to happen. And when you see a guy who is charging up a mountain and has virtually no pain on his face, or when you can have a rider who never has - in France it's called (French spoken), which is to say, a day that you don't have the legs. When you start to see that happening, that means that something else is going on. So physiologically, it's simply not possible to ride for 21 straight days and not have a bad day.
SHAPIRO: So bad days, in some ways, make for a better race.
Mr. LINDSEY: Bad days makes for a better race because it makes it more unpredictable. It's the kind of unpredictability that we love about sports.
SHAPIRO: How are the athletes themselves responding to these scandals that have hounded their sport?
Mr. LINDSEY: One thing that you're seeing is the athletes are going enthusiastically toward independent testing programs, because it's a way to tell the fans I'm clean, and here's the evidence. The problem with all of the scandals lately has been that they've been absolutely toxic for fans' interest in the sport. If we don't know whether what we see before us is real, then why should we invest the time to watch it? I think the riders are fed up with the innuendo, and obviously, they're looking at it from the standpoint of if it continues on much longer, then more sponsors will back out and there will be no races left to ride in, and there will be no teams left to ride in the races.
SHAPIRO: The Tour de France begins tomorrow, and we've been talking about the race with Joe Lindsey, Contributing Editor for Bicycling Magazine. Thanks a lot.
Mr. LINDSEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.