Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tour de France

I've been writing about movement, flying and of course training some, but with another rider busted in the Tour de France today my thoughts are on that event.

I used to really like watching the Tour de France. When Floyd Landis was busted for doping in the Tour I was pissed at Floyd. I had reveled in his stunning comeback, his guts, and his general down-home attitude. Then it turned out that he had doped (no real surprise for any Tour rider), and I felt betrayed despite feeling I should have known better. I followed Floyd's appeals and legal maneuvering as the case went through the courts, and at one point I became convinced that he hadn't been busted so much as framed by bad evidence. Then I read some more, and the reality is that nobody but Floyd will ever know exactly what happened. I expect that maybe in ten or 20 years the "real" evidence will come out as it often does. This year I followed the Tour a bit, but it's the same old game of doping violations. I've now just lost interest in the Tour; what does it mean to win an event that's so obviously drug-fueled? What it really boils down to for me is that the Tour is simply nothing more than a bad joke no matter what happened with Floyd and others. Either Floyd is lying like mad or the Tour is incompetent at drug testing. Either way my response is the same: I'm not interested anymore. My opinion matters little, but I suspect there are a lot of people out there who feel the same. Maybe drug testing is a dead end for athletics, maybe there are ways to test effectively, but the real problem is that high-end aerobic and strength events have big stakes, and someone will always try to cheat in that environment. It's human nature.

I've lived and worked with amateur and professional bike racers over the years and deeply respect the dedication and effort they put into their sport, but I can't respect the Tour as an event, nor can I find the confidence to trust any of the athletic performances I see on that asphalt stage. Football, baseball, hockey, any "huge" event has basically the same set of temptations and will likely produce the same behavior.

I do not know of one climber, kayaker or paraglider pilot who has ever doped to win a contest of any kind. I've heard vague accusations, but despite being involved in the high end of those sports at various points I have no solid, factual information that anyone has doped to perform at a higher level than any other competitor in any event. And even if someone had then I seriously doubt the podium reflected the doping effort; it's seldom the strongest who wins in any the sports I compete in. When someone wins a climbing or paragliding comp I can see the training, see the effort, and balance those factors against the luck everyone needs occasionally. I've had luck when I needed it and not had it when I would have liked some. I've seen competitors screwed by the "rules," and also given a break by the officials, but that's competing. Perhaps there just aren't enough rewards in my sports to inspire serious doping? That's OK with me, and I can look at the accomplishments of my friends and know that the results came from them, and not from who could avoid the drug tests the best.