Didn’t you used to be the Tour de France ... you know, a really big deal on the sports landscape? Didn’t there used to be Sports Illustrated covers, gorgeous photos of your Alps, your sunflowers, your Arc de Triomphe before, you know, doping allegations rocked the sport and Lance Armstrong retired?
It may be battered, but the Tour de France is still there — its 98th edition begins Saturday and runs through July 24 — and the cloud of doping remains. Although the International Cycling Union and France’s anti-doping agency say they have teamed up to police the competition, riders are peppered about the topic by reporters, as Alberto Contador was reminded today. Bidding for his fourth Tour championship, the Spanish cyclist is the overall favorite ahead of Luxembourg's Andy Schleck and is racing pending his appeal of a positive test for a banned substance, raising the possibility that he could win and then be stripped of the title.
Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de Lance champion who remains the target of a federal criminal investigation into alleged doping in cycling and by his former U.S. Postal Service team, will be on a bike — but in the U.S. and for charity.
On July 10, as his former RadioShack teammates are riding in the Tour’s leg-breaker stage, he’ll be leading a charity race in Davis, Calif. He’ll also ride in the RAGBRAI (The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), which begins July 24. “The plan is to ride at least for a couple days,” Mark Higgins, Armstrong’s manager at Capital Sports & Entertainment, said.
He’s expected to attend the final week of the Tour de France, but it just won’t be the same.