When you hear the word “cycling” come out of someone’s mouth, what words always seem to come to mind?
Lance? Spandex? Doping, maybe?
For the last few years, numerous sports have had their troubles with performance enhancers but have recovered in one form or another.
In baseball, black eyes left by players like Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco have been nursed back to health with modern day superstars in the class of Josh Hamilton and Jose Bautista. Youth has done its part, too—Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have been the toast of Major League Baseball this year, as both have promising futures ahead of them.
Track and field took a long time to recover, with athletes like Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin serving lengthy suspensions and having their gold medals from 2004 stripped. But, as the saying goes, “time heals all,” as four years brought along arguably the world’s most exciting athlete in Jamaican Sprinter Usain Bolt.
Oddly enough, the sport’s recovery process has come full circle as eight years later, a clean Gatlin is a threat to medal in the 100 meter dash in London after finishing first at the US Olympic Trials last month.
The sport of cycling, however, is clearly still on that winding, mountainous road to redemption.
If it wasn’t already bad enough that the sport’s greatest champion of all time, Lance Armstrong, could soon face official charges from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), cycling still struggles to find that one legitimate superstar to rally around.
Following his 2006 Tour de France victory, American rider Floyd Landis had his title stripped after multiple tests proved he had abnormally amounts of testosterone in his system in the last few stages of his race to victory.
Two-time champion Alberto Contador is not competing in cycling’s biggest tour this July as a result of a 2010 urine sample that contained a considerable amount of clenbuterol, a banned substance that is normally used by patients with severe asthma to ease breathing.
It’s no wonder Contador made the Pyrenees look like a Sunday morning at Venice Beach during his two Tour de France victories in 2007 and 2009.
Despite the fact that these irrevocable damages will not likely be forgotten any time soon, especially considering that the Tour de France is cycling’s only event all year that receives significant press, a small glimmer of hope has shone through in this year’s tour.
During a Stage 14 climb up the Mur de Peguere, one of the Tour de France’s toughest climbs as the tour enters the Pyrenees, a few mischievous bystanders thought they would liven up the competition by throwing more than 30 tacks onto the road.
The nasty little obstacles made conditions chaotic on the course, causing crashes and punctured tires galore, especially for defending champion Cadel Evans, who had to change tires twice and promptly fell off the back of the peloton.
With stage leader Luis Leon Sanchez and others already more than ten minutes ahead of the peloton, overall leader Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky urged the peloton to slow its pace to allow Evans, who is directly behind Wiggins in the overall classification, to catch up and finish with the main field.
Wiggins’s unwillingness to capitalize in a situation in which he had a lot to gain on the clock and a lot to lose in terms of karma shows something different about the sport—that maybe there is a small amount of sportsmanship and integrity present left in a sport that has been ravaged by deceit and unfair advantages of late.
Still, an act of respect like this doesn’t restore cycling to its former state, especially after a failed doping test disqualified “star” Frank Schleck from the Tour just this afternoon.
In all honesty, we may never see a completely cleansed, pure form of the Tour de France or the sport of cycling for the rest of its existence, as chemists and testers will constantly be racing to discover the next big thing in drug technology—in other words, what they’ve always done.
It’s just nice to see that for once, some of the sport’s biggest riders understand there are some things greater than getting ahead in this 2,200 mile test of character.