For the few among you who still don’t know what it is, the Tour is a three-week 2,500-km-long bicycle race around France that started way back in 1903. It has been
|Where Tom Simpson died|
There has been much written about le doping, the use of drugs during the Tour. It’s the race’s dirty (not-so-)secret. Everyone is tested before the race begins. Then two samples are taken after every stage, both randomly as well as for the race leader and stage winner. In 2006, the last American to win, Floyd Landis, was stripped of his title in spite of his protests when he tested positive. 2007 was even worse, with several riders eliminated for doping. In 2010 Spaniard Alberto Contador, three-time Tour champion, tested positive for a drug used by asthma patients, and then played the "tainted steak" card. But aside from that, the last two Tours have been free from positive drug tests, so maybe it’s getting better. Or maybe, with the use of oxygen-rich blood transfusions, the riders are just getting better at covering their tracks (pun intended).
American Lance Armstrong has repeatedly been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs but has never tested positive... not once. He won the race 7 successive times - every year from 1999 through 2005. Before him, another American biker, Greg Lemond, won it 3 times: in 1986, ’89 and ‘90. That puts the U.S. in fourth place behind France (with 36 wins), Belgium (18) and Spain (13).
But in spite of le doping, the Tour de France remains a tremendous physical feat. Many a French boy - and some from outside of the Hexagone - trains diligently all his life and dreams of one day whizzing across the finish line on the Champs-Elysées in Paris to win the coveted maillot jaune... or even to wear it for just one stage. And you can watch all of those boys try to do just that right now. The Tour, which started on July 2nd, will end on Sunday, July 24th. Check your paper for time and channel.
For more info on the Tour de France 2011, click on: www.letour.fr