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Pros On Bikes: Cheats on Wheels in the Tour de France

Chemical lab, doping, anabolic enhancement

UCI,UK and French anti-doping agencies found no positive doping tests in 2014 Tour de France
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Since 1903 the Tour de France has been marred by rumors and the sad reality of doping. Pros on bikes drank alcohol such as wine or used ether as a painkiller way back then. Riders were also getting high on cocaine and even strychnine. Over the years, high-tech performance enhancers like blood-booster erythropoietin (EPO) has developed. With that the war against drug use has also intensified.

Governments and dope testing agencies such as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) have been doing all thet can to deter the use of drugs that would increase performance during the Tour de France. As early as 1924, Charles and Henri Pelissier admitted to French gambling news reporters that they used drugs such as cocaine, chloroform, ‘horse ointment’ and even aspirin to make it through the Tour.

Tour of Shame

One well-remembered tragedy is that of Tom Simpson from Britain who dropped dead off his bike on his way up Mont Ventoux, on July 13, 1967, after having been intoxicated with a deadly dose of amphetamine. Tour of France became the ‘Tour of Shame’ when a member of the Team medical corps for Festina was arrested on drug charges. He allegedly pumped EPO, growth hormones and testosterone, along with amphetamine into his cyclists’ bodies to give them a lift in the race.

Biking team TVM was next targeted by the police and drugs were found in their hotel rooms. This clampdown caused bikers to go on strike. With Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France intervening, law enforcement pulled back and the Tour continued. However the damage was done. More riders pulled out of the race in protest much to the disappointment of online betting fans. It later turned out in court hearings that management and health officials of the Festina team had doled out the dope.

Raiding for drugs is a potentially controversial nature

Tom Simpson Mt Ventoux
As the race became more and more popular more sophisticated measures were implemented to avoid further mishaps as well as to deter riders from cheating by using performance enhancing drugs. So the UCI as well as Tour de France organizers have systematically been doing more frequent testing for blood doping, especially through transfusions and the use of EPO.

The UCI was instrumental in implementing certain rules laid out by the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), created in 1999. However sometimes raiding for drugs has proved to be a potentially controversial nature. Raimondas Rumsas, the number 2 in the the 2002 Tour de France, got off scotch free after his wife was arrested, when these drugs were found in her vehicle.

Peer Pressure

Philippe Gaumont’s Cofidis team member, David Millar confessed of having taken EPO when police broke down his door and found EPO stacked there. Also Jesus Manzano, a biker from the Kelme team admitted that he was forced by the rest of the team to take banned dope. Another title holder that made headlines in recent years is 7 times winner of the Tour de France, American Lance Armstrong.

Things came to a head when a French newspaper published documents which alleged that Armstrong had used EPO in the 1999 race. In 2005, one month following Armstrong’s seventh consecutive victory, Traces of the hormone glucocorticosteroid showed up positive in his urine sample. He blamed skin cream on the find. He also claimed that the UCI had allowed him to use the cream.

Drugs allegations end rivalry

To show participants of the Tour de France what would happen to them should they continue to infringe on French gambling laws by upping their performance illegally he was also banned from competing in professional sports for a lifetime ban. He was also threatened to be stripped of all his seven consecutive Tour de France medals after the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USDA) disqualified him from all his victories since 1 August 1998.

Armstrong confession
Lance Armstrong then appeared on Public TV on the Oprah Winfrey show in the US where he admitted, before millions of shocked fans, that basically he was a drug addict on wheels. To add even more drama, long-time rival of Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, called for the Tour de France organizers to not strip him of his seven wins, stating that doping was so prevalent in cycling it would be unfair to punish only 1 person so harshly.

7 times title holder of Tour de France stripped of all his medals after doping scandal

Despite the confession and the support, UCI officially stripped Armstrong of his titles since 1 August 1998, in October 2012. However his Tour medals were not awarded to runner ups. It seemed this has sufficed to scare off future cheats on wheels in professional cycling. According to the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) no positive doping tests were reported in 2014’s Tour de France.

UCI president, Brian Cookson, said at the time of the announcement, “I would like to thank the anti-doping bodies involved in the 2014 Tour de France operations for their collaboration, in particular the French Anti-Doping Agency and UK Anti-Doping, but also the World Anti-Doping Agency and the CADF. This sort of collaboration is absolutely necessary”. With this year’s Tour de France not far away let’s hope cheats on wheels will stay away.

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