British former Cycling star Chris Boardman recently told the BBC that this year's Tour de France is in "absolute chaos" – and no wonder.
Before this year's race even started, three of the favourites for the tour, Italian Ivan Basso, German Jan Ullrich and Spaniard Francesco Mancebo, second, third and fourth finishers respectively in last year's event, were embroiled in a massive police investigation in Spain into alleged "blood doping". All three were subsequently withdrawn from the race. Then came the withdrawal of six other cyclists and two entire teams: Comunidad Valenciana and the Astana team of Kazakh ace Alexandr Vinokourov. And the scandal did not end there. After an amazing performance over the final 80-mile stage, the winner on the road, Floyd Landis, tested positive for an excess of testosterone in the blood. While the American and his legal team hope either to demonstrate that the tests were faulty or that there was a justifiable reason for the elevated levels of testosterone, the sport is reeling. Never before has a winner been deposed for doping. It would be a sad first if the title were to pass to the man who finished in second place, Spaniard Oscar Pereiro.
All in all, it has been a torrid year for a sport still recovering from the scandals of the previous decade, the most serious of which saw the French customs agents confiscate over 400 bottles and capsules of performance-enhancing drugs from members of the Festina team three days before the start of the 1998 Tour. The position of Tour organisers was not helped by the stringent criticism they received from figures such as Jean-Francois Lamour, French Sport Minister, and Dick Pound, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, himself heavily criticised in the report by Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman which cleared American cyclist and seven-times Tour champion Lance Armstrong of doping.