France’s anti-doping crusaders are stockpiling needles for testing blood and cups for sampling urine, while two new books on Lance Armstrong have just been released in France. Must be about time for the Tour de France.
The seven-time champion is back from retirement, four years after his last victory.
The race starts on July 4 with a challenging 15.5-km (10-mile) prologue in Monaco, located in southeast France. The pack will then head out along the Mediterranean, through the Pyrenees, across central France, into the Alps before the July 26 finish in Paris. Riders trek and face 20 major mountain climbs during the three weeks that will see them cover 3,500-km.
Tour designers have spiced up the route and revived some rules in the hope that fans will have something to get their minds off the drug-use that has marred the event.
Judges from UCI, the sport’s governing body, will be back, a year after they were kept out because of a bitter spat with Tour organisers over doping. The UCI has rolled out its “biological passport” anti-doping programme, in which samples were taken from 840 professional riders to determine their body chemistry profiles. Any suspicious fluctuation from those levels could lead to penalties.
France’s anti-doping agency says it’s going to target suspicious riders, rather than focus on random tests, and will test for an unspecified new drug.
For Armstrong, who famously insisted he was the world’s most-tested athlete during his glory years and has never tested positive, the welcome back to a still largely suspicious France may not be warm.
Just weeks before the Tour’s start, two books — La Grande Imposture (the Great Impostor) and Le Sale Tour (The Dirty Tour) — have come out in France to capitalise on the media frenzy over Armstrong’s return.
Both books lay out repeated suspicions about Armstrong over the years, though neither breaks significant new ground.
This Tour also offers some blasts from the past, including a team time trial in Stage 4 — the first since 2005. Injecting a taste of yesteryear from when riders didn’t enjoy high-tech communication, Tour organisers have banned the use of earpiece radios in the 10th and 13th stages — a controversial move that will alter strategies by stripping riders of their coaches’ advice during the stage.