I Never Tested Positive
While Writing These Reviews
What a crazy era it's been in the world of competitive cycling. A spectator at one cycling forum once compared the Tour de France to the TV show Survivor: "We don't tune in to see the race. We tune in each day to see who's going to get voted off the peloton."
The saga started, in a way, with Floyd Landis's "back from the dead" ride in 2006. Here's what I wrote then:
He's done. He's won. Nope, he's done. Wow! He's won. He's really won. He's standing on the podium. Oops, he doped. He's done.
That more or less describes Floyd Landis's topographical and emotional yo-yo of a ride at this year's Tour de France. From unheralded contender to frontrunner to his terrible collapse in Stage 16 and remarkable comeback the very next day, Landis changed from goat to hero to suspect in less than two weeks. And the saga's not over yet. (Update 2013: Okay, now it's over.)
Whether Landis ends up guilty or innocent, just think how upset Alexandre Vinokourov must be. He was in the clear himself, but couldn't ride because five of his teammates were suspected of doping. And now they've just been cleared. Meanwhile the winner, who used to be in the clear, is now suspected of doping. What a strange year. Better luck next year, Vino. Don't forget to not take your meds.
As Landis zoomed to the finish line in Stage 17, I was thinking he just earned himself a book contract and a place on next year's bestseller list. Sort of like Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike. Perhaps he would've called it Itâ€™s Not About the Bonk. He still has a book in him, but now it's going to need a new chapter or two, and a not-so-happy ending.
Win or lose or get disqualified, Alexandre Vinokourov sure knows how to entertain. Tragically, I could almost reuse the same first paragraph as last year, this time substituting Vino's name for Landis's:
He's won (pre-race favorite). Nope, he's done (crash). He's really done, and he's taking Kloden down with him. Wait, he's back (time trial victory). Nope, he's done (thirty minutes lost). Damn, he's lost the yellow jersey for sure, but what a stage win! Wonder if he'll pick up a couple more stage wins. Oh, well, apparently not (doping scandal).
Michael Rasmussen and his team contributed plenty to the soap opera. Everyone thought he was going for the King of the Mountains jersey. No one thought he could win or hold on to the maillot jaune.
Oh, he's sure to lose it next stage. (He doesn't.) Or the stage after that, then. (He still doesn't.) He'll lose it during the time trial. (Still not.) Okay, but the other contenders will make up time in the Pyrenees. (They don't.)
Just when everyone was resigned to Rasmussen winning, his team suddenly fires him! Contador wins! (Or maybe not. Looks like another doping scandal's brewing on the horizon. Time will tell.) In the meantime, have they made a final ruling in the Floyd Landis case yet? (When I first wrote this, no.) Sure seemed strange knowing who won in 2007 before we knew who won officially in 2006.
Lance Armstrong's War, by Daniel Coyle
All of this is leading up to a book recommendation: Lance Armstrong's War, by Daniel Coyle. It's more about the race itself and the grueling training that goes with professional cycling than it is about doping allegations, though of course there's some of that business, too. Mostly, though, Lance Armstrong's War is an observer's view of an incredibly challenging sport and the personalities and soap operas and scandals that accompany it.
I look forward in the years ahead to reading the new accounts that are bound to be (re)written about this era of the Tour de France, now that the dirty laundry is out in the open.
Reviews and reflections by Eric Pinder