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Tour de France

08/06/07 7:55AM By Mike Martin

(HOST) Commentator Mike Martin used to be big fan of the Tour de France, but these days, his enthusiasm is fading.

(MARTIN) The French often call the Tour de France "La Grand Boucle," or "The Big Loop." Unfortunately, The Big Loop was a big mess again this year for the same reason as usual: le dopage. Because of doping problems, some of this year's favorites were suspended before the Tour even began. Then cyclists seemed to drop like flies as scandal followed scandal. Michael Rasmussen, who was leading the race in its last week, was forced to hand in his yellow jersey when his team fired him for lying about his whereabouts during training. nEuropean policemen were once again raiding hotel rooms and private homes, searching for performance-enhancing drugs. And more cycling heroes, including Bjarne Riis and Erik Zabel, confessed to cheating in previous tours. What's worse, the scandals didn't end when the Tour wrapped up on the Champs-Elysees: the authorities are now looking into accusations leveled against this year's winner, Alberto Contador. This comes after last year's winner, Floyd Landis, tested positive for testosterone doping and was stripped of his title.

This year was supposed to be different. Before the Tour's first stage, the International Cycling Union required all of the Tour's riders to sign an anti-doping charter reaffirming their commitment to clean blood and agreeing to give back their salary for the year if caught. Roselyne Bachelot, the French Sports Minister, predicted this would be a clean race this year because of improved drug testing; now she is predicting a clean race for next year.

Meanwhile, the French public is losing faith in the Tour. A survey last week by the French sports paper L'Euipe found that 46% of the French people don'ty care about the race any more, and almost 40% think that a majority of the riders are doping. No matter how much you love cycling, it's hard to get fired up about a race that seems more like a contest between pharmaceuticals than one between athletes.

Greg Lemond, the first American to win the Tour de France, put it this way in the French press last week: "Riders who are doping have the mentality of a drug addict. They don't think about the consequences of their actions."

Like Carl Yastrzemski and Bobby Orr, Greg Lemond was an athlete I idolized as a kid, and I hope that future generations get to admire sports heroes who aren't suspected of cheating - and don't have asterisks next to their names in the record books.

In the summer of 2005, I was in France with my family, and we followed the Tour together. We even got to see Lance Armstrong in person as he rode towards Paris and a seventh consecutive victory. We were sitting on a stone wall in a little village with our cameras and picnic, and we cheered with the other fans when he came into sight.

Afterwards, my son, troubled by some discussions he'd overheard, asked me if Armstrong took drugs to win. "I hope not," I said, "I sure hope not."

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.
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