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Has Tour de France survived doping shame?

Lee Wellings is not convinced the world's most prestigious cycling race has ridden through doping scandals unscathed.
Last modified: 20 Jul 2013 14:37

It is often called the world's third biggest sporting event.

It IS the biggest in terms of spectators.

It is beautiful, brutal, mesmerising and unique.

And the Tour de France is also the most discredited, poisonous, crazy event you find.

An event so affected by doping you wonder how it's wheels can continue to turn.

This was perhaps it's most crucial year. After the months of doping shame that has torn cycling asunder could the big one deliver?

The answer is part yes, part no.

The incredible enduring appeal of the event comes from the theatre of its three week progress through France and tapestry of stories and characters.

The millions of enthusiasts who line the route, locals shoulder to shoulder with fans from across the globe. I joined over half a million of them on stage 18, Alpe de Huez.

They came in their vans, cars and of course their bikes to the famous resort, adorned with flags and team colours, dressed as bananas and superheroes, or as wannabe pro cyclists, failing to keep a respectful distance as the 177 riders climbed the cruel 13.8 metre ascent...twice.

From Al Jazeera's position on the finishing line the noise and colour, the mountain tops, the police, the temperamental alpine weather gave a feeling of barely organised chaos, of another world.

So much was happening at the top of the mountain as you absorbed the view, it struck me the varied, remarkable scene would have made a brilliant giant jigsaw puzzle.

The colour and noise have been repeated all over France - even the doping has been used for a perverse positive - it has fuelled gossip and innuendo for fans and cycling journalists alike to pepper the Tour coverage. Chris Froome's incredible performance met with demands by L'Equipe for power data. Team Sky agreed, L'Equipe reported no anomalies and some of the suspicion was instantly removed.

But the treatment of Froome encapsulates how Le Tour is failing in my eyes.

The event itself is a incredible love letter from a nation to itself, but its relationship with the actual cycling is bitterly, incestuously self-defeating.

For with each innuendo, each doping riddle, each bit of in-fighting throughout le Tour, those involved in contesting, organising and covering the sport can't see the damage that continues to be done.

It is a ridiculous state of affairs. Defending the sport one moment, then accusing everyone of doping the next. You can't have it both ways though the reality is unappetising. The most notorious drug cheat in sporting history, Lance Armstrong, had his seven consecutive tour wins wiped from the records, a succession of other proven cheats have dominated the race for decades, and there is a contradiction between the demands of the course and the need to believe anyone is capable of achieving the results drug-free.

Spaniard Alberto Contador a prominent challenger in this year's race, a man stripped of the 2010 title for a doping offence. I mean come on really, what kind of message does that send out?

So if the achievement's of this year's winner really were assisted by drugs, they might as well call the whole thing off - I'm serious.

Want Froome to be a cheat? Be careful what you wish for. If him and Team Sky are not saviours and part of the solution, what are they? And what actually is the race? Which route has it got left to take?

As I said at the time the social media brigade were throwing sly allegations like confetti. Come back when you have evidence.

And the character of the winner adds to the confusion. The achievements of a true hero. The performances of a master. His Tour was truly spectacular. But he is not one of the Tour's great 'characters'. Born in Kenya, made in South Africa, riding under a British license. Not a famous man outside cycling. But maybe his legend will grow. The French public have appeared to warm to the man rather more exotically pronounced Christ-o-phair From, than plain old Chris Froome.

I'll be at the finish of the race, the grand procession, in its first night time finish, in its 100th year.

It will feel big, important, celebratory, special.

But if cycling still cannot find a way to rid itself of it's doping shadow I would call a halt to year 101. Suspend the race. And come back fitter and stronger without the cheating.

What will actually happen is Le Tour, and it's large collection of devotees, will carry on regardless.

They will party on in the garden of France, but remember the house was burgled by dopers - who can really say that they are not still in there.