Sunday, 22 July 2007
Tour De France - Week 2...
With the riders now entering the decisive Pyrenean stages, this is proving to be a far from an ordinary Tour de France. For the first time since Marco Pantani’s victory in 1998, we in the yellow jersey a specialist climber who looks capable of carrying it all the way to Paris. Many thought we’d never see the likes of Pantani again, following Lance Armstrong’s ruthless and clinical blueprint for race domination. Although there is a lot of racing still to be done in the final week, even the possibility of a Rasmussen victory is exciting.
The second week proved to be as eventful as the first. Still no rider or team seems capable of dominating the race outright, in its self I’d suggest evidence of decreased incidences of rider doping. After the first Alpine stage I got a little carried away, praising T-Mobile’s new anti-doping credo. Their young rider Linus Gerdemann, who won both the stage and the yellow jersey on stage 7 into Le-Grand-Bornand, offered hope that things were starting to change.
Gerdemann’s grip on the jersey lasted exactly 24 hours, and although not himself implicated in any scandal, his team’s anti doping stance began to look questionable when on Wednesday it emerged that Patrik Sinkewitz had tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone at training camp in June. The permitted levels of testosterone are fixed at 4:1, and Sinkewitz registered a mighty 24:1, outdoing even Floyd Landis.
Although the tests aren’t complete on Sinkewitz’s ‘B’ sample, it would need a pretty dramatic failure of laboratory testing procedures to exonerate the rider. German TV decided not to wait, immediately pulling the plug on their live TV coverage. After Ullrich, Zabel and almost everybody connected with the mighty Team Telekom of the late ‘90s had been caught or confessed to doping, patience finally snapped. With many sponsors nervous about the continuing image problems of the sport, this race needs to be a Tour of Renewal even more than the post-Festina edition of the race in 1999.
On the road, it all went wrong for young Gerdemann on Stage 8, cracking on the climb to Tignes and losing team leader Michael Rogers, who dislocated his shoulder in a heavy fall on the final descent of the day. Michael Rasmussen moved into yellow, where he has been ever since.
With Vinokourov in plaster and Klöden carrying a back injury, pundits began to mention notorious wheel-sucker Cadel Evans alongside Alejandro Valverde as the race’s eventual winner. Evans is a better time-triallist than Rasmussen, and it looked like he could win simply by being the rider least likely to have a bad day – the Armstrong formula. Fortunately the Dane had other ideas, doing the time-trial of his life on Saturday in Albi, increasing his overall lead, and then cracking Evans on Sunday’s thrilling stage to Plateau-de-Beille where he took almost 2 minutes out of the Aussie.
Of course it is worth mentioning that Rasmussen dominated the headlines for the wrong reasons on Thursday, being dropped from the Danish national team for missing two out of competition doping tests whilst training in Mexico in June. Rasmussen tackled the media questions head-on, and his explanations all sounded reasonable. An irate Christian Prudhomme, race director, clearly has faith in the rider, reminding the press that he has been tested on several occasions since and been found to be clear each time. Prudhomme even went as far as to criticise the Danish Federation for the timing of their announcement, right in the middle of the Tour.
It now looks as though only Alberto Contador, a time trial disaster next Saturday, or the fallout from his doping scandals can stop The Dane from taking an historic and hard-earned victory. The road seems to littered with riders of the Armstrong type this year – Valverde, Rogers, Vinokourov and Klöden to name but four – and a victory by a specialist climber would be one in the eye to formulaic racing. Assuming that Rasmussen has nothing to hide, I’ll be cheering next Sunday should he still be wearing yellow as the riders parade down the Champs Elysees.