The Tour's cure
Armstrong helps erase memory of drug scandal
Posted: Monday July 26, 1999 10:49 AM
PARIS (CNN/SI) -- It has been a trying year for the sport of cycling, and the Tour de France could have sent it on another downward spiral.
Top riders missed the race because of injuries, bans or by choice. Many feared the drug scandal that haunted last year's Tour would emerge again. Fans had grown weary of the corrupted sport.
And then came Lance Armstrong. The American's comeback captivated the world, and saved cycling.
"What better symbol can we have for our sport than a born-again rider winning the Tour," said French Cycling Federation president Daniel Baal, who was charged then cleared in the Festina drugs scandal which rocked last year's Tour.
Cycling has been trying hard this summer to cure the disease which had plagued it for years -- drugs.
Last year's Festina scandal so stunned the world of cycling that Armstrong's feats raised doubts and suspicions. Minute traces of corticoids were found in the Texan's urine during a dope test on this Tour but drugs allegations were quickly dismissed.
"I'm afraid it [drugs allegations] is a burden all Tour winners in years to come will have to bear," Armstrong said.
Last year, doctors made headlines on the Tour for the wrong reasons. Doctors of the Festina, ONCE and TVM teams were held on drugs charges.
The role of medicine this year was a much more positive one.
"My victory is a miracle, a miracle of medicine," said Armstrong who has famously recovered from testicular cancer.
Close friends said Armstrong had always been a gifted rider and his cancer had only delayed his rise to the top. "Lance is unique and his mental strength is what makes the difference," said Johan Bruyneel, director of Armstrong's U.S. Postal team.
American Frankie Andreu, Armstrong's team mate since the start of his career six years ago, said his strong character had helped him to get over cancer and also win the Tour.
Armstrong's victories in the three time trials and his impressive performance in the mountains with a superb stage win in Sestriere placed the American alongside some of the greatest athletes in the sport, such as Miguel Indurain and Bernard Hinault.
An obvious comparison has been made with Greg LeMond, the first American to win cycling's showcase event in 1986.
LeMond returned from a near-fatal hunting accident in 1987 to win two more Tours in 1989 and 1990.
It is impossible to know whether Armstrong is strong enough to win more Tours but cycling fans will be eager to see him compete in years to come with Italian Marco Pantani and German Jan Ullrich, the two previous Tour winners, who both missed the race this year.
Armstrong had little opposition in this Tour, even though second-placed Swiss Alex Zuelle and Spanish climber Fernando Escartin, who was third, completed an ideal podium for the organizers.
By finishing second, as in 1995, Zuelle completed his comeback after he was kicked out of last year's race with the rest of the Festina team for drugs.
This year, the former Vuelta winner said he was feeling even stronger since he had stopped taking banned products.
Escartin is a typical example of a hard-working, soft spoken rider, long overshadowed by more glamorous leaders, who was at last allowed to come to the limelight.
Frenchman Richard Virenque was allowed to compete by the International Cycling Union (UCI) against the will of the organizers and won a record fifth King of the mountains title, finishing fifth overall.
Throughout the race, cheering French crowds showed they had forgiven Virenque, who had become a symbol of drugs in cycling as last year's Festina team leader.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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