The 2008 Tour de France was perhaps one of the more exciting tours in recent years. The yellow jersey changed hands 7 times. Names that should have been weren’t–Thor Husholvd, QuickStep (save for a last-minute win on the Champs-Élysées), Alejandro Valverda, and Cadel Evans are just a few names worth mentioning. Carlos Sastre rode the time trial of his life to support the claim that the yellow jersey brings with it confidence and ability to ride beyond oneself. Perhaps more exciting than the ride itself were the politics that were raging behind the scenes.
The 2008 TdF [finally] brought the UCI, the governing body of world-wide cycling, into head-to-head battle with ASO, the race promoter for the Tour de France and several other major races. The two have been bickering for years with arguments festering into a full-on war last year when the UCI withheld information from from ASO regarding Michael Rasmussen–the chicken; the only man to be plucked from the yellow jersey; the dying breed of genetically altered white meat. The withheld information would have resulted in Rasmussen being banned from the race, thus saving the TdF and ASO the embarrassment and troubles associated with the situation.
Many believe that the UCI does not effectively deal with doping because they represent the teams and riders. They are the Union of the cycling world and, as such, they are weak and useless in dealing with doping. Yes, they will pick on a rider here and there, but overall, the UCI has not implemented any harsh penelties for the riders or teams or managers for violations. That Rasmussen started the ’07 tour after missing several out-of-competition tests is witness to these claims.
ASO laid down the law before the tour even started by banning Team Astana from the 2008 TdF and several other races, despite the fact that the 2008 team was completely new–new riders, new management, only the name remained the same. The team was torn down and rebuilt because in 2007 several Astana riders were involved in doping scandals. Despite the doping, enhancements and overall embarrassment that Astana brought to the pro peloton, the UCI still granted the team a pro tour license. ASO stepped up with a resounding, “No!” and banned the team. (I still question why ASO singled out Astana and didn’t impose similar rules to Cofidis and Rabobank.)
ASO proved this year that it can self-govern its races. Doping controls run by the French national anti-doping agency (AFLD) were precise and apparently accurate, resulting in four positive tests. From reports, the testers were crafty and more diligent in implement tests when compared to previous years, i.e. UCI and WADA. Any bursts of power or questionable abilities landed riders in line for testing at the end of a stage. From all indications, this was the deepest, most vigorous testing the tour has ever seen.
While the battle rages on, it seems the 95th running of the Tour de France could spell the end of the International Cycling Union (UCI). ASO has proven that a race organizer is capable of coordinating and then governing a race. It seems the biggest question right now is how badly will UCI loose and what steps will they take to save face?
More importantly, the pro peloton may finally be cleaned and drug free. Viva Clean Racing!