The ~3700 km long Tour-de-France, the true endurance testing event according to yours truly, has always survived the doping allegations bound to hit it due to the limits to which the human body is pushed during the event. But it seems that this year may be the beginning of the end for the great event.
The Tour, already battling for attention after the retirement of Lance Armstrong, the ensuing doping scandal, the Fifa World Cup 2006 and the Wimbledon, has been hit hard by yet another doping scandal of such a massive scale that none of the top 5 riders of the 2005 edition are a part of this years line up.
The doping scandal has forced Ivan Basso (2nd, 2005), Jan Ullrich (champion 1997, five times runner up, 3rd in 2005) and Francis Mancebo (4th, 2005) out of the race. Alexandre Vinokuorov, the unluckiest of them all, was forced to withdraw when the eligible riders on his Astana-Würth Team fell below the minimum of six (5 of the 9 riders of the team were suspects in the doping scandal). Though none of the charges in the Operación Puerto doping case have been proved the teams (T-Mobile, CSC and Astana-Würth, amongst others) have withdrawn the implicated riders. Mancebo has announced his retirement from the sport and many more heads are expected to follow suit.
The Operación Puerto doping case has implicated close to 200 athletes of using prohibited doping practices to enhance their performance. A Spanish newspaper El País published secret details of Operación Puerto and accused Manolo Saiz (ex-manager of the erstwhile Würth) and Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes of doping practices along with several riders. Ullrich (who had earlier announced that he will retire after 2007 season) has denied all allegations and threatened to sue the newspaper, but one feels that he might have to reconsider his decision.
Sometimes I think it is best that the WC2006 and Wimbledon has kept it out of limelight and has prevented a further fall from grace!! Also comes to mind the thought (however unholy it may be) of making the race a bit easier for the normal human body so that not many are tempted to dope and not many are required to.
Meanwhile, the Tour carries on with the Norwegian Hushovd wearing the hallowed malliot jaune (the yellow jersey for the uninitiated). I sincerely do hope that the event emerges from the shadow of doping and that human spirit is the final victor.