Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Let the suffering begin and the doping end - it will still be hugely entertaining

Once again we are in the post-TdF fall classic tournament - "Disgrace the Doper." This year's doper target, Alberto Contador. Without judgment on guilt I wish we could all just fathom the reality of how difficult the Tour is and that winning it isn't or may never have been, possible without some magical elixir. This past weekend retired, after being banned and disgraced, pro cyclist Bernhard Kohl said in an interview posted on FanHouse.com,

"People know in cycling that's it's not possible to win the Tour de France without it," Kohl told FanHouse at the conclusion of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's annual science symposium on Monday. "It's three weeks, 3,000 km and you climb (the equivalent of) Mount Everest four times. That's just not possible."

He knows a little of what he speaks - the year Kohl was caught using CERA he took third in the world's most difficult sporting event. After riding just a fraction of those Cols on my first trip to the Alps several years ago I declared to my fellow cycling mate, "they are all on drugs!" That declaration came only after firsthand experience in a few back-to-back days in my 39x27, and I wasn't averaging 40kph or half that.

Up until that trip I was pretty staunchly in the 'Those Guys Are In A Special Breed' camp. I held out hopes, with some conviction, that they were riding pretty clean. That foray into the "big" mountains taught me reality isn't candy coated in hope, it's spiked with dope.

My thoughts here are not about right or wrong when it comes to doping, but more the acknowledgement that young Mr. Kohl is more in touch with reality, partially out of firsthand experience, than most of us. He went on to say,

"Floyd Landis won the Tour de France and his average speed was 40 kph," Kohl said. "This year it was Cantador and it was also about 40. It was nearly the same average speed. Landis was doped. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, you can win (without drugs) if we work with the anti-doping movement."

Can the Tour be won without using dope or some magic filled musette? Absolutely. But will we be entertained? The speeds will surely drop - faster than a pro coming off the Tourmalet. The average speeds of 40kph will be left in the mythical past. Yes, they will still climb faster than you and me, and descend faster, and just plain ride faster, but will we be entertained? And that's really what this comes down to - if we can be patient enough to still be entertained, then ya, the Tour can be won. David Walsh, chief sports writer for the London Sunday Times and author of From Lance to Landis and LA Confidential offered his reaction to CyclingNews, regarding clean riders vs others,

"The one thing that really should bother right minding thinking people is that no one cares for honest men getting screwed. The journalists don't care, the race officials don't care, the sponsors don't care, and sadly you have to say that the public don't care. That's always been the issue for me."

On one of the World Cycling DVDs of the Tour a few years back commentator Gary Emlach -while standing on the precipitous slope of the high Alps said something to the effect - most sports are generally improved with speed, cycling improves with suffering, and nothing dishes out suffering like the Alp and Pyrenees. If that's the case, then let the suffering begin and the doping end - it will still be hugely entertaining.

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