Poor Tour de France; talk about taking repeated shots to the nuts. I don't remember a body count this bad for cycling since...gosh, how long ago was that...the last Tour?
Today Michael Rasmussen was dismissed by his team, Rabobank, for breaking its own disclosure rules. He claimed to have been training in Mexico for a time; subsequent investigation puts him in Italy instead. Over an 18-month period that includes this training period, he failed to appear for four drug tests.
Rasmussen was the leader with four race stages left. For the Tour, this is the equivalent of pulling sprinter Ben Johnson from a race at the 70-meter mark. It is worth noting, however, that despite acting like a jerk to his team and race officials, he passed 17 different drug and doping tests during the Tour itself. Which may mean he's a jerk to the detriment of even his own career. Or it may mean he's got a way to "train" that will exit his system at race time, so he only has to avoid testing until then. We probably won't learn the truth on that one.
Just the day before, Cristian Moreni was removed from the race after testing positive for synthetic testosterone. He appears to have said the equivalent of "you got me dead to rights" and was removed. By police, as France's laws against illegal drugs are apparently quite severe.
The day before that mess, Alexandre Vinokourov was removed, having tested positive for an illegal blood transfusion after a stage win. The results are interesting, I suppose, in that Vinokourov's stage performances before and after his one victory were reportedly lackluster.
Of course we all know that Floyd Landis, while still awaiting a ruling on his appeal, has been informally expunged by Tour promoters for failing two tests for synthetic testosterone during his victory. The tell-tale sign: a blazing comeback stage win when he really, really, really needed one. That Tour was also marked by the dismissal of several famous riders prior to the start, including Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. Earlier this year, Bjarne Riis admitted to doping during his '96 Tour win. Riis apparently waited out the statute of limitations to make this announcement, and reportedly spoke with some tone of defiance about it. Makes you wonder just what the hell is really going on.
I haven't seen this many dismissals, resignations and confessions since Republicans tried every trick they could think of to discredit President's Clinton. Win at all costs, including their own careers. That's some profound anger and hatred, right there.
This series of events is a total nightmare for bicycling, indeed for any professional sport. Forget David Stern and his oh-so-qualified contention that there's only one dirty NBA ref, Tim Donaghy. Forget the NBA game in which the two teams initiated a riot-inducing brawl with the fans -- during the game. Forget Michael Vick, once the poster boy for the New Quarterback, who is now the face for the ghoulish street-criminal element among NFL players. Forget Barry Bonds, who is booed roundly in every park except his own, the nation's publicly-elected effigy for steroid use, even though he has never tested positive. And of course you've forgotten by now the inexplicable implosion of Marty McSorley, a career NHL champion, who threw a nasty head shot at an opponent with his stick -- from behind -- with seconds left in a game. To make matters worse, he claimed he was trying to provoke a fight (with three seconds to go?), and -- this one's a beaut -- that he was aiming for the shoulder.
But what's happening at the Tour right now is a meltdown, pervasive enough to discredit an entire sport. You and I might well be watching the beginning of the end, right here.