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Drugs, Diaries and Purges

Tour de Witch Hunt

by DAVID PRICE

The fallout continues from last year’s Tour de France doping scandals. Last year as the first post-Armstrong Tour in modern memory was getting ready to begin, a gaggle of top riders where caught in a Spanish doping scandal, and then after the conclusion of the race it was announced that Tour winner, American Floyd Landis had detectable levels of synthetic testosterone in his blood after his crucial stage win.

After these public disasters Tour organizers and professional organizations enacted new penalties for dopers; teams and riders adopted public postures declaring no tolerance for anyone testing positive. The pressure to sign on these tough no-nonsense standards was intense-the riders had no choice but to agree to new draconian conditions that would mark them for life should any test show them deficient. Many riders publicly stated that they were all for increased scrutiny and elevated consequences, but they also wanted increased due process and increased backup samples to protect them from the errors and ineptitude that enter all human processes. But the workers themselves were shut-out from this process, and this shut-out marks the feeding frenzy that is now moving in clockwise direction through the beautiful French countryside.

And now, riders are falling from the Tour in breathtaking speed. First, German rider, Patrik Sinkewitz, was kicked out when pre-race blood samples tested positive for forbidden substances, then, the T-Mobile team withdrew from the race after Italian rider Cristian Moreni, tested positive for artificial testosterone in stage 11. Then, Kazakhstan’s best hope of rebuffing Borat’s insults to their national honor went up in flames after national hero Alexander Vinokourov’s blood samples showed the presence of someone else’s blood. No explanations were forthcoming from Vinokourov, or his Kazakh national railroad sponsors, but one can hear Sasha Baron Cohen working all of this into an upcoming TV special.

Now, the great king of the mountain himself, Michael Rasmussen, is the latest man purged from the tour-but he’s not tested positive for any banned substance and was not pulled from the race by race officials. His own team, Rabobank, gave him the boot for irregularities in his accounting for his exact whereabouts on two dates the past few months. The team knew this for over a month, why they did this after he won the tour’s most difficult stage yesterday is a mystery, but one wonders if some sort of McCarthyistic ethic isn’t driving teams to prove their purity by eating their own.

Professional bicycle racers remain as the most tested athletes in the world. One wonders what the World Series or Super Bowl would look like if only 25% of the participating athletes had to play by the rules that all of these riders must conform to? If 100% had to, the teams wouldn’t be able to suit up enough players to field a team.

With Rasmussen gone, all eyes turn to the great American cyclist Levi Leipheimer. This elevation for Leipheimer is well earned but now stained. The real story is the rookie kid, Albert Contador, who is now pushed to the front–many will see him as a pretender to the throne, but I’ve had my eye on him for the last few years as the next Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain or Lance Armstrong, so what we have here is a real Harry Potter story. The shame is that whatever greatness Contador earns this year will be marked by the expulsion of Rasmussen, an act that will inevitably reduce the standing of his accomplishments.

All fans should be glad that there is increased scrutiny of doping, but things are out of control as due process for riders under suspicion is pushed aside to create an appearance of no tolerance. But no tolerance of what? Of not submitting paperwork in a timely fashion? And what of routine lab errors? What recourse does a rider have if they are accused under a tainted lab sample? Under these conditions today, Heaven help any rider subjected to the routine bureaucratic failures that cross each of our paths, generally without dire consequence, on a daily basis.

DAVID PRICE is author of Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (Duke, 2004). His next book, Anthropological Intelligence: The Use and Abuse of American Anthropology in the Second World War, He can be reached at: dprice@stmartin.edu