Tour de France Dominated by Drug Charges

This has been a rough week for the Tour de France. Charles Pelkey of VeloNews talks to Scott Simon about the teams and individuals who have been forced out of the race because of allegations of drug use.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Can anyone win this year's Tour de France?

Two teams have been asked to leave the race after members failed drug tests. Leader Michael Rasmussen of Denmark was kicked off his squad Wednesday and forced out of the race after team leaders said that he'd misled them about his whereabouts.

Charles Pelkey of the cycling magazine VeloNews joins us again this week from member station KUWR in Laramie, Wyoming. Mr. Pelkey, thanks for being back with us.

Mr. CHARLES PELKEY (News Editor, VeloNews): Certainly.

SIMON: Now, all right, Michael Rasmussen, Christian Moreni, Alexander Vinokourov - all top contenders, now all banned from the race. Should they just cancel it?

Mr. PELKEY: No, I don't think they should. In fact, there had been positive tests. There'd been scandals in the past of the tour. The event itself is such a grand spectacle. If you're an optimist and you look at things where the glass is half-full, maybe you can say that the stepped-up enforcement and the rigor with which they are pursuing alleged dopers, is a good sign and certainly no reason to stop the race in its tracks.

SIMON: I'm - interesting you should say glass half-full or glass half-empty because we're talking about filling a cup, if not a glass for a...

Mr. PELKEY: A little beaker at the end of the race.

SIMON: A little beaker at the end of the race. And it's getting so that you can't get excited about somebody running well and being in the lead without crushing your fingers and thinking, okay, the biggest hurdle of all is going to be that urine test.

Mr. PELKEY: Well, and that's the tragedy of doping in general in sports. I think you have to be hopeful, and I believe that this year, the Tour is really making an effort to enforce the rules. I think that there are some riders, possibly Vinokourov, Rasmussen and Moreni, that didn't get the message and were assuming that they could get away with it. And hopefully that's not the case.

SIMON: How long has some kind of doping or enhanced activity been going on in cycling, what's your estimation be?

Mr. PELKEY: The Tour de France started in 1903. I would guess, 1903. The sport has been rife with problems. Its real darkest hour came, however, after the introduction of what can best be described as oxygen transporting drugs techniques like blood doping and EPO. And that's generally plagued the sports since the - late 1980s, early 1990s.

SIMON: What happens to a big-named racer who's barred from the Tour de France? Is it hard for them to pick up a career again?

Mr. PELKEY: Well, it is. In fact, several riders in the past have really had a hard time picking their careers up. One of the things about cycling - and I know it sounds strange - but it does have a far more rigorous ethics code than a lot of other sports. And immediately when you get a positive doping test and it's confirmed by a B sample, you're suspended for two years.

You're also banned from participating in - for a lack of a better analogy - the major leagues for another two years. You can't ride on a pro-tour team for up to four years. That's a pretty major hit on a career that could last maybe 10 or 12 years. It's very difficult for some.

SIMON: Charles Pelkey of VeloNews. Thanks very much.

Mr. PELKEY: Certainly.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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