Saturday, July 19, 2008

Doping Controversies And The Tour De France

Doping and Tour De France have a long history together. This year too, all hopes of a dope free Tour were dashed as doping reared its ugly head with two riders testing positive. Every year the organizers and the WADA speak tough on doping, urging the cyclists to compete cleanly, but their pleas are often fallen on deaf and stubborn ears. The Tour, considered to be the holy grail of cycling, the ultimate test of human endurance, skill and spirit; has given us unforgettable performances by a select few, who have managed to make the Tour their own, until they retired. It is the stuff that legends are made of.  But cheating at the highest altar of cycling is simply not acceptable. You can find the sordid tales of doping by the cyclists and the methods they use here:

Out of curiosity I decided to dig a little deeper and here’s what I managed to cull out.

Doping refers to the use of performance-enhancing drugs to improve one’s athletic performance, a practice which is forbidden by organizations that regulate competitions.

The most rampant form of doping in the Tour’s history has been Blood Doping. It is the practice of boosting the number of red blood cells (RBCs) in the circulation in order to enhance athletic performance. Because they carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, more RBCs in the blood can improve an athlete’s aerobic capacity and endurance.

In the fag end of the 18th century and early 19th century, six day bicycle races had gained popularity across the Atlantic and the cyclist who managed to ride the greatest distance by staying awake for the entire six day stretch being declared the winner.

I have one word – Brutal.

This prompted rampant drug abuse among the cyclists with side effects ranging from hallucinations, insanity and even death. But in those times it was viewed that doping was necessary in order to compete in such brutal, demanding races. For more information on instances of doping, visit this link: For official information on Blood Doping from WADA, visit this link:

Pete Grathoff writing for The Kansas City Star hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “Sometimes in sports things just go together. Hot dogs and mustard. The New York Yankees and haughtiness. Blood doping and the Tour de France.”

The Cycling Union in a weak attempt to cleanse the cycling fraternity has come up with an oath. Any cyclist who undertakes this oath, the Union will attempt to make this oath binding by forcing on the cyclist who signs it; to forfeit a year's wages if they're caught cheating.

The oath taken by sportsmen and women at the pinnacle of sporting competition, The Olympics:

“In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”

I sincerely hope that athletes after taking this hope compete cleanly and uphold the spirit of sportsmanship. With the Olympics almost knocking on our doors, this hope has turned into a prayer.

Before the start of the first road stage, tradition of the Tour De France dictates that the youngest rider in the race will read the Riders’ Oath. For the remainder of the Tour, I feverently hope that this Oath is not broken.

Only time will tell…..

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