Tomorrow is arguably the biggest day of the year in Cycling. The Tour is king (for now), and while the stage is often a moving target, the last mountain stage is usually a good bet. And this year is no different. The climb up the Col d'Aubisque will be memorable.
One more reason why it sucks that today, on the eve of that event, we're going to have to tackle one of the biggest in-race scandals the Tour has confronted. Obviously ASO got lucky when Vino crashed and fell apart (twice), since it's easier to throw out two stage wins than to remove the yellow jersey. But this story, after all the other scandals, will begin the feeding frenzy all over. The vultures at ESPN and other MSM outlets normally uninterested in Cycling are already starting to circle. What they'll all say is that Cycling is reeling from a succession of scandals, and something drastic -- stopping racing? Fans disappearing? Sponsors going home? -- looms over the sport.
What they won't talk about is hope. Nor will they stop to distinguish one story from another. Nor will they refrain from lumping all the innocent in with the guilty. So I'll take a shot at it.
In some ways, Vino's case is unremarkable. Vino is from the era of Ullrich, Basso, Pantani, Festina, Rumsas, Hamilton, Dr. Ferrari, Dr. Fuentes, and on and on. Vino was racing for Manolo Saiz on the day Saiz and Fuentes were nabbed with suitcases of blood and cash. We try not to do guilt by association in our justice system, but even still, we're not surprised when such suspicions turn into fact. And Vino has been under constant suspicion (here anyway) from that day. Among the bigger losers today are Landis and Armstrong, two more champions from that era: however much some of us want to believe them, at some point they're asking us to accept that they were the only clean riders in the race. And they won.
More and more we cannot trust, say, anyone over 30. OK, that's not a blanket dismissal of half the peloton. Rather, I think we have to accept that the Operacion Puerto raids fell somewhere between the middle and the end of an era of dopers. Hopefully closer to the end; hopefully 2-3 years after that fateful day we will have flushed the accepted doping mentality from the sport, for the most part anyway. But there is still much work to be done.
If this is about the sport's culture, and if one wants to accept that the culture is in flux, then what to make of the Sinkewitz case? At 26, he falls squarely in the Boonen/Ballan/Pozzato/Schleck/etc. generation whom we want to take over at the dawn of a better era. I actually find this more troubling than the Vino case because we need the younger guys to do differently. And we need the T-Mobile system to enforce that change.
But Sinkewitz got caught. And testosterone, while banned for good reason I'm sure, is a lower level threat in my book than the blood doping rings. There are no shadowy doctors involved, no iced panniers smuggled into hotels, no syringes, no mafia, and no connection to altering the entire speed of the sport; just a guy with a patch on his skin. Yes, it's a form of cheating, but it's not as disgusting and not as easy to disguise. IMHO (however poorly informed), testosterone patches don't have nearly the impact on Cycling as EPO and blood manipulation.
Another categorization: doping seems to be largely about the grand tours. Maybe we'll find out otherwise, but the stars of the Classics these days are Cancellara, Boonen, Ballan, Schleck, DiLuca (*), Pozzato, Burghardt, Freire, Hoste, Devolder, Gusev, Gilbert, Valverde (?), Schumacher, etc., and so far only DiLuca and Valverde have some explaining to do. Compare this to any grand tour from the last ten years, where you can remove huge swaths of the top ten on suspicion or confirmation of doping. There are places in Cycling where doping hasn't destroyed the race. Unfortunately, the Tour de France isn't one of them.
The point of all this is that we need to separate the good from the bad; refrain from destroying the good and the innocent; and come down with full force on the heads of the actual cheaters. Vino: buh bye. Basso: va fa Napoli. Hamilton: good riddance. Astana, Tinkoff: flush your rosters and start again. Sinkewitz: confess and go home. Get the hell out of the sport so that the Gerdemanns and Boonens and Ballans and whomever else we can (hold your breath) consider clean can carry on and restore the greatness of Cycling. I still think the racing looks cleaner this year, but until the sport has turned over completely from the most recent era of doping, the scandals won't quite end.