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Untangling the Mess

There are two major differences between the Rasmussen and Vinokourov cases. First, Vinokourov was largely irrelevant to the current Tour. Even though he won two stages, one was a time trial and the other was stage 15, where none of the contenders chased him. So his antics can be wiped clean and the race can be understood easily by simply subtracting him. Figuring out who won the race (or who should be in command) now that Rasmussen is out is a nightmare.

It would be nice to treat him like his technical status: a DNS tomorrow, no more an outlaw than, say, Robbie McEwen, who also won a stage but won't be in Paris Sunday. Sometimes guys play major roles, then leave the Tour. It doesn't change what they did. Unfortunately, Rasmussen's case is only literally about violating a team rule; the undercurrent is all doping, and his disappearances, his magical time trial, and his continued brilliance all smack of enhanced performance. If you want to subtract the doping and anoint a "real winner," you have to remove him from the entire race. This won't be easy.

Rasmussen won two stages: 8 and 16. The former didn't cause much of a stir, as nobody took the Chicken seriously until his shocking time trial performance. Since then, however, Rasmussen and his Rabobank Armada have shaped the race. What can you assume would have happened had Rasmussen not been there, or at least not been juiced? Surely Contador would have won stage 14, seeing how strong he was. But stage 15 could have played out a dozen different ways, depending on who was positioned where. And stage 16 all the focus would have been on the Disco boys vs. Evans. The tactics would have been completely different. Now we'll never really know. We can be pretty sure that the three best riders will take the podium, thanks to the large gaps from Leipheimer to Sastre and Zubeldia. But in what order... who knows? Maybe the Time Trial will help.

The other major difference is that while Vino's case was sickening, I got the sense that the sport would file it away. Rasmussen's case, by contrast, is kind of a tipping point, and is provoking a firestorm of reactions. From the CN Notes, we hear Tom Boonen calling for lifetime suspensions. We hear people saying that a new league (in place of the ineffectual UCI) is needed to establish a system that can ensure clean sport. We hear the doctors are planning to form an association. We have the prospect of whole teams being punished for a rider's infractions. Some of this comes out of the Vino case and earlier matters, but the collective will to really change the sport seems to be gathering, quickly.

The doctors' association is an interesting idea. One thing I've harped on a lot is to have a fairly neutral and very cutting edge repository of knowledge, so the governing bodies can get the best, most reliable information about how cheating is being done. It's sad when the cops are light years behind the perps when it comes to methods of cheating. Having an enforcement system that's fighting on a level playing field is a major deterrent. Better than what we have had, at least.

Anyway, I think we're getting closer and closer to the day when people will be ready to sacrifice their own positions and make way for the overhaul of the sport that is necessary. Vino's case may have shown the ability of the labs to catch people, but Rasmussen's case, with nothing more than a pattern of behavior to prosecute, shows that the sport isn't going to wait for a positive test to stop the next embarassment.