I haven't blogged about the Tour de France as much as I threatened to (highly amusing LOLcats aside). Not because I haven't been enthralled (that's right - enthralled), just because I haven't had time.
In my previous post I mentioned that despite the rumours of drugs, the Tour de France "remains one of the great bastions of sportsmanship". With the drug-related fall of three of the main contenders in short succession, including the yellow jersey holder, many are saying that the race is not worthy of attention - there have even been suggestions it be pulled off air. But I stand by my previous comment.
There has been an enormous (and justified) uproar over the revelations of drug use among the sports biggest names, but I don't think that gives a sports writer like Greg Baum, whose principal interest is AFL (FFS!), the right to dismiss the entire event. Dare I suggest it, but anyone who says that completing a Tour is any less of an achievement because some people use drugs, is an ignorant twit.
I don't intend to get into a who's tougher argument, but let's for a moment consider a comparison with your standard AFL player. It's interesting to note that during tomorrow night's game between Collingwood and Brisbane, the players will be fitted with radio transmitters that will tell exactly how far they've run, how high their heartrate and how many G's they encounter on impact during a game. The elite AFL players - your Buckleys, your Crawfords, your Judds - are known to cover extraordinary distances in a game, often nearing marathon distances and rarely dropping below a jog for the two hours they are on the field. They then have a week to recover, mend aching muscles and refocus for the following round.
Riders in the Tour de France this year will cover an average of over 175kms a day for three weeks. This is often considered the equivalent of running a marathon every day for 21 days straight. Many of them will be involved in serious accidents during this time - Tyler Hamilton broke his collarbone in the first stage of the race in 2003 and completed the entire Tour finishing fourth overall, Michael Rogers crashed and was forced out of the Tour this year with seven broken ribs. Many of the stages are so difficult that even the best riders in the world can't complete them within the allowable limits - Australia's great sprinting hope Robbie McEwen was disqualified after finishing outside the allowable time on the 8th stage this year.
It is not a controversial statement to suggest that the Tour is one of (if not the) toughest sporting events in the world.
There is no suggestion that all competitors are using drugs. Not only that, but the people who have been caught have been immediately dismissed from the Tour, heavily fined and banned from the sport. When was the last time an AFL footballer was banned from playing AFL for the use of performance enhancing drugs (and I don't for a moment believe that it doesn't go on)? Ever?
There are a large number of competitors in the Tour who don't use drugs and are disgusted by those who do. Yesterday's stage was held up for 10 minutes at the start, as riders protesting against their own colleagues sat at the start line motionless after the flag had been waved.
Australia's own Cadel Evans, perhaps the greatest road cycling champion we've had for decades now sits in second place (!) overall with the prospect of potentially winning the Tour outright. There is no suggestion he has done anything in the slightest bit wrong, yet Greg Baum and others feel the need to dismiss the entire race because a number of other riders have cheated.
How does this irreprably damage the Tour? How can people argue that it is anything less than an extraordinary achievement by the men who do it clean?
I genuinely believe that in Australia, the Tour de France is entirely misunderstood and grossly underestimated and the reason people like Baum feel content to shoot it down is because they don't get it. If anything, I think the recent rash of drug disqualifications strengthens the Tour and makes the clean riders all the more impressive.