Tour de France Scandal: Who's to Blame? Sportswriter and regular commentator Stefan Fatsis says it's been a bad week for cycling, with tour leader Michael Rasmussen removed from the race for missing drug tests. Fatsis says coaches, doctors, and "other enablers" are also to blame.
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Tour de France Scandal: Who's to Blame?

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Tour de France Scandal: Who's to Blame?

Tour de France Scandal: Who's to Blame?

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The big news from the Tour de France today is that there isn't any big doping news. There was racing. Frenchman Sandy Casar won today's stage despite hitting a spectator's dog and crashing. Alberto Contador of Spain has the yellow leader's jersey heading into this weekend's finale.

Joining us, as he does most Fridays, is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal. Welcome, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sports Correspondent, Wall Street Journal): Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And as best I can tell, the best news for the Tour de France this week, the only good news is that none of the cyclists has been arrested for running an illegal dogfighting ring.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FATSIS: Otherwise, it's been a pretty bad week. And in cycling, that says a lot. Race leader Michael Rasmussen of Denmark was kicked out of the Tour de France. That's only the second time that that's happened in 104 years. He missed drug tests and lied about his whereabouts before the race. A favorite in the race and a guy that was respected by other riders, Alexander Vinokourov, he tested positive for a banned blood transfusion. Another rider was escorted away by French National Police at the finish line.

The funny thing to me is that if you say that one by one, cycling is eliminating the cheaters, you're either totally optimistic or totally naive.

SIEGEL: Well, yeah, because this is not the biggest surprise in the world. Last year's winner, American Floyd Landis, tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. He has challenged the lab findings and he's awaiting a decision from an arbitration hearing. This was supposed to be the clean year at the Tour de France.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. And Tour officials have talked tough about wanting it to be the clean year and they've backed it up by expelling not only some of these riders, but two of the full teams that they ride for. And they're planning to use team drug results and ethical criteria when picking entrance in the future. But the Tour isn't the issue here. It's the coaches and the riders, and the doctors, and the other enablers for those who have been cheating.

It's also the sport's bureaucrats who still can't get a handle on the issue and seem to apply their own rules unevenly. And if you believe some of the accused like Landis and now Vinokourov, the problem is faulty and overzealous drug testing procedures.

SIEGEL: Well, let's say you are a truly clean rider, and I believe there are some truly clean riders, no? How do you cope with this sport in that case?

Mr. FATSIS: Not well, it seems. Some riders said they cried this week after hearing about some of these findings particularly for Vinokourov whom they respected so much. Christian Vande Velde is an American rider. He has been writing a diary on, and the other day he started his entry with just one word: Jesus. His teammate Bobby Julich writes for ESPN and he said he feels duped. He's running out of defenses for the sport. He also pointed out that cycling was supposed to have had this big wakeup call in 1998, when there was a huge scandal involving the Festina team at the Tour. Now, where a decade later, scandal still dominates despite more drug testing than ever. The optimist in these guys says that the elimination of the cheaters is rewarding deserving riders at least.

SIEGEL: Well, they didn't stop the race though. There are still two stages left and the final ride into Paris on Sunday.

Mr. FATSIS: Right. Two riders from Lance Armstrong's former team, Discovery Channel, are in the top three here. Alberto Contador of Spain, he's in first, and Levy Leipheimer of the United States, he's third. Contador is up by a minute and fifty-three seconds on Cadel Evans of Australia, and two minutes and forty-nine seconds on Leipheimer. Well, the race essentially will be decided tomorrow with a 34-mile time trial where the riders race against for clock rather than against each other.

SIEGEL: Well, now, Stefan, one completely unrelated item from baseball that we have to mention - this evening's strange wrinkle in time that we will call minority report meets Alex Rodriguez.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: The Yankee's third baseman has 499 career homeruns. He's looking to hit his 500th, but maybe he did already.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FATSIS: A month ago, there was a suspended game between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles called off on the top of the eighth inning. They are completing that game tonight. If Rodriguez hits a homerun in baseball's record, it'll count as having happened on June 28th, which means the homerun he hit on Wednesday will be number 500.

SIEGEL: Well, try to say that in the past too perfect subjunctive to get it right when he did that on Wednesday.

Stefan, thank you very much for talking to us.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal, who talks with us on Fridays about sports and the business of sports.

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