Death of a Tour

The robots who analyze everything I do are wondering why I haven’t written a word about the Tour de France since 2005. There are two reasons. One is that I burned myself out writing about it every damn day for a month. The other is that it’s getting harder and harder to care about Le Tour. Last year, a doping scandal on the eve of the race forced many of the contenders, including Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, to drop out. Floyd Landis appeared to redeem the event with a superhuman comeback leading to a triumphant victory, then got caught up in a drug controversy of his own.

This year, things have gotten ridiculous. Just in the last three days:

• Alexandre Vinokourov got thrown out over a blood transfusion. This resulted in the withdrawal of his team, Astana, including Andreas Klöden, who was fifth overall at the time.

• Christian Moreni tested positive for testosterone and got the boot along with his team, Cofidis.

• And to top it all off Michael Rasmussen, who had been in the yellow jersey for a week and looked virtually certain to win the Tour, got kicked off his team for hiding his whereabouts, apparently to avoid a drug test, earlier in the summer.

As of today, only 142 of the 189 riders who started remain, and they’re dropping like flies.* The champion-apparent has vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving rookie Alberto Contador atop the general classification. And with three days to go before the Tour ends, we still don’t know who won last year’s race, because no definitive decision has come down on the Landis situation.

I’ve been trying my damndest to give a crap, but I don’t think I can keep it up. French newspapers have been saying that the Tour is dead (only in French — “Le Tour Est Mort,” something like that). Of course, they love to be dramatic, and I’m pretty sure they’ve considered the Tour dead since Lance Armstrong started winning every year…but this time, they may be on to something.

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* Since I started writing this, I’ve learned that Rabobank leader Denis Menchov up and quit the race halfway through today’s stage. The Web site cyclingpost.com says: “No crash was reported to have happened prior to the abandonment, which makes it likely that the rider retired due to a lack of motivation following the Rasmussen scandal.”

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