Cycling faces hard ride with drug scandal
Posted: Monday August 03, 1998 12:53 PM
PARIS (AP) -- Flat tire or broken frame?
The scandal-plagued Tour de France is over. Now the sport of cycling is coming to terms with the task of rebuilding its tattered image.
Other sports, like track and swimming, have been rocked by drug revelations. But none depends so heavily on a single event for its global reputation: for many, the Tour de France is cycling.
Right now, the sport is in a state of shock. The question is: Can it bounce back?
"In the short term, we will suffer badly from this crisis and our image will suffer," says Daniel Baal, vice president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport's governing body. "But we can rebound positively. The sport is strong enough.'
Aware that the sponsors bankrolling cycling could turn their backs on the sport, governing federations are pledging to redouble their efforts to stamp out the use of illegal substances.
They hope that now that the problem is public, it will be easier to tackle.
But at the same time, cycling officials recognize that eradicating doping is virtually impossible. Drug like EPO, which increases oxygen to red blood cells, can't be detected, and new substances are being developed faster than ever.
Organizers insist there is no thought of canceling next year's race, or even making any major changes for the moment.
They reject suggestions that cyclists need to use illegal substances because the course is too grueling.
"The tour will continue as normal,' said John Lelangue, spokesman for the Tour. I've heard the cyclists say that if anything, some of the stages are too easy."
But the tour's travails have already sparked wider debate, with International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch calling for a reduction in the number of banned substances in sports, and proposing an international conference to seek new ways of tackling the problem.
The UCI also said Monday that it will hold a 'brainstorming conference' this week between some of its top officials, cyclists and team managers to examine the issue of doping.
Cycling is already as thorough as any other sport in testing competitors - it was the first to introduce blood tests, for instance.
"Drug controls in cycling are already stronger than for any other sport. That's the worrying thing," said Alan Rushton, managing director of Sport For TV, which organized the Irish leg of the 1998 Tour de France.
"I would estimate hat 50 percent of all global sports testing is carried out on cyclists."
Tour de France drug scandals are nothing new. Back in 1967, British cyclist Tommy Simpson died on a climb up Mont Ventux after taking amphetamines.
"The problem has been known within cycling for a long time. It is part of its history," James Startt, a former member of the U.S. cycling team, told The Associated Press.
But the problem clearly has gotten worse in recent years.
From day one, the 1998 Tour was dominated by drug revelations.
Six teams pulled out, protesting police tactics, while one, Festina, was expelled after admitting systematic doping.
Italian cyclist Rodolfo Massi became the seventh person - and the first cyclist - to be placed under formal investigation during the Tour.
Infighting hasn't helped.
In a column for the German daily Bild last Friday, 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich attacked some of his fellow pros, including Laurent Jalabert and Luc Leblanc, for pulling out of the race once they had no chance of winning.
"A great race has been stolen from all of us," he said.
"Inside, I'm deeply angry at Festina, at the justice, and also at pros like Jalabert and Leblanc. They failed at the tour and now they're stirring up trouble prematurely."
Dan Osipow, operations director for Montgomery Sports, which runs and manages the US Postal Service team, pointed to the scandal's ripple effect.
"It's a shame for the audience, it's a shame for the cyclists, it's a shame for everyone involved," he said.
Startt called the scandal "one of the darkest periods in the history of cycling," but he thinks some good can come of it.
"If it doesn't," he said, "we really are in a sorry state."
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