Tour de France Drug Abuse

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The question of drug use among athletes in what was previously considered by the unknowing public to be a rather pristine sport, cycling, is important in that it will affect all future Tours and will place them and the athletes under scrutiny. To begin with, in Europe until the 1998 scandal occurred, despite a few exceptions, cycling was considered a drug free sport. The 1998 drug scandal tarnished the Tour de France and the reputation and image of other sports. The media response to the scandal took differing positions on what should be done next to clean up cycling. The scandal also affected advertisements, sales, and without question the 1999 Tour and Lance Armstrong. Since even the most naïve fan no longer trusts the cyclists, drug-testing procedures have been instituted. Also, the question now arises regarding medications used by seriously ill cyclists. Certainly, future Tours will be significantly affected. The Union Cycliste Internationale and other sports officials are left with several burning questions; do they seek a better testing system? Clearly, they must protect athletes and the image of sports even though it is costly. Do they perform uniform versus random drug tests? Both are necessary to keep athletes and trainers accountable. In fact, the 1999 Tour promoted both forms of testing (Fife 208). If they do random tests, how do they enforce them? On this point, committees and sports federations are still debating.

For years cycling, a grueling, yet glamorous sport in Europe, has been fighting drug use and abuse. Despite a few exceptions, cycling had the reputation, in Europe and in France, of being a clean, pure sport, compared to others, until the 1998 scandal occurred. The question of drug use among athletes in what was previously considered by the unknowing public to be a rather pristine sport, cycling, is important in that it will affect all future Tours and will place them and the athletes under scrutiny. A Clean Reputation: The History of Drugs in the "Tour de France" In 1967, Tommy Simpson, a British cyclist, died during the Tour de France because of the amphetamines that he took. Succeeding years brought embarrassments: In 1978, the Belgian Michel Pollentier was suspended while leading the Tour de France after he was caught concealing a clean urine sample to trick testers. Furthermore, in 1988, the Spaniard Pedro Delgado won the Tour de France despite having tested positive for using what is known as a masking agent, a substance designed to hide drug use, but one that was not banned by the Tour at that time. Pedro Delgado even argued that somebody put them in his glass, and that he did not even notice it. Still these incidents were considered minor in comparison to the sandal of 1998. "Nowhere has the disgrace of doping been felt more dramatically than in the Tour de France, the world's most prestigious cycling event" (Wilson E6). The scandal started on July 8 when Festina's team masseur, Willy Voet crossed the French-Belgian border and was checked by French customs authorities. Driving an official car, issued by the Societe du Tour de France, nobody would have thought that he could be stopped. Voet was carrying plenty of banned substances in his car, which immediately resulted in Voet's arrest. The drugs found in the car were erythropoietin (or EPO), human growth hormone, testosterone, syringes, and amphetamines. Voet confessed a few days after being arrested that it "was not the first time he'd ferried such a haul of performance-enhancing dope to big races, generally, as on this occasion, under order from the Festina team bosses" (Fife 201). As soon as the Tour arrived in France on July 14th, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) suspended the professional licenses of Festina's sports directors, Roussel and Ryckaert, and put the leaders of the team, Richard Virenque, Laurent Brochard, and Laurent Dufaux on hold. The following day the Festina team was...
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