The 2011 Tour de France will have its opening day Saturday. But, as usual, the buzz around the race isn’t just about who will win and who the favorites are. The ever present shadow of doping is hanging over the event and its current champion. Yet instead of Lance Armstrong being tainted with doping charges, new dominant champion Alberto Contador is under a cloud of suspicion as he goes for his third straight title.
After testing positive for the banned weight-loss drug clenbuterol, Contador will be subject to a hearing at the Court of Arbitration and Sport in early August, days after the race ends. Even if Contador wins the championship, that victory and his 2010 title could be stripped from him if he is banned from competition.
As such, the sport is hoping and praying for a favorable ruling for Contador, who maintains that contaminated beef caused the positive test. If he’s wrong or lying, then cycling will have been further tarnished — if possible — with another tainted champion.
Things are already getting worse on the Armstrong front, as he has fought off charges that his Tour de France victories were tainted for years. Yet after Tyler Hamilton provided more details about his alleged doping on 60 Minutes in May, more and more people are convinced that Armstrong cheated. The majority of fans in France have believed it for years, but America is now filled with more doubts as well.
At this time last year, Armstrong raced in what turned out to be his last Tour, where he had nothing left to challenge Contador, Andy Schleck and the other new cycling powers. When it comes to the actual competition, cycling has moved on without him, even though his shadow has hardly left the sport.
It is especially hard to move on from Armstrong’s tainted legacy now that Contador’s growing legacy is under fire as well. If cycling’s two most dominant champions of the last decade both prove to have cheated, then it may be impossible to recover from.
Of course, bike racing still has the Tour de France, which remains one of the biggest events in sports. But it seems like it is won every single year by a doper or someone eventually accused of doping. As such, with Contador weeks away from perhaps being banned, it might be better for the sport if he doesn’t pull off a three-peat.
The next best contender may be two-time defending runner up Schleck. But he could be declared the winner later on if he finishes second again and Contador is stripped of his latest win. However, with cycling’s luck, Schleck will probably test positive himself days later.
New York Times- “Contador Chases a Title He Might Lose in Court”
MSNBC.com- “A year later, it’s gotten ugly for Armstrong”
Los Angeles Times- “Schleck counts on fans’ support to help win Tour de France”