Magazine article The Spectator

Dope and Glory

Magazine article The Spectator

Dope and Glory

Article excerpt

THE TOUR de France is just a bike race, in the way that Test match cricket at Lord's is just a bat and ball game. Imagine learning that the MCC had been used for 200 years as a front for the procuring of underage boys. Such a revelation could hardly fail to affect the way in which the nation looked on itself. The scandal of the Tour de France is roughly on a par with such a revelation.

Vast quantities of performance-enhancing drugs have been found, top teams have been implicated, police have extorted tearful confessions of prolonged and careful drug-taking from its stars, more and more confessions have been heard and there is still the feeling that all that has been exposed is the iceberg's tip.

'I regret lying and disappointing my fans, but there was nothing I could do.' So said Alex Zulle, runner-up in the tour in 1995. 'I had good results without doping, but pressure from my sponsors forced me to jump the gun.'

The Tour de France is about the soul of France. We don't really appreciate stage racing in this country: it is a business of complex tactics, deals, fraught alliances, cataclysmic effort. It is an annual threeweek mania of total obsession.

It is as if Lord's cricket ground was sent on a parade around all the loveliest parts of England. The Tour is a celebration of the Frenchness of France, France as it sees itself -- rural, tamed, diverse, united. It is also a celebration of the human spirit, because it is so frightening a physical and mental ordeal.

The riders threatened to go on strike last week in protest at the media which kept writing about the drugs; the actual racing had become a mere side issue. …

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