A cleaner Tour de France starts in England, stage ends with a crash

Prologue, 2012 Tour de France / Photo: Insane Focus, used under Flickr Creative Commons license
Prologue, 2012 Tour de France / Photo: Insane Focus, used under Flickr Creative Commons license

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2014 – In the publicity shadow of the World Cup, the 101st Tour de France started today.

In the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, the Tour has worked to rehabilitate its image and reputation. Doping was probably rampant among riders for years, a situation that was only widely suspected until Armstrong rubbed cycling’s nose in it.

The Tour now is probably one of the cleanest events in international sport. Riders are required to keep a “biological passport,” a system that tracks blood and urine samples over time to look for irregularities that indicate doping. It includes two modules: a hematological module, which attempts to find changes to oxygen transport that can be linked to use of banned hormones to increase red cell production or to blood transfusions; and a steroidal module, which looks for effects of banned anabolic steroids and other anabolic agents.

The biological passport is used in conjunction with standard drug screening tests. Athletes have been required to submit to regular testing leading up to the Tour. The case of Czech cyclist Roman Kreuziger, a member of the Tinkoff-Saxo team, illustrates how this system works.

Kreuziger was informed by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) in June 2013 of biological passport irregularities in 2011 and 2012. His team’s medical staff and another panel of medical experts concluded that the irregularities had valid medical explanations, but the UCI asked in May of this year for further explanations, effectively barring him from this year’s Tour. He was dropped from his team’s lineup.

Last year’s 100th Tour was concluded with celebrations and a light show at the Arc de Triomph in Paris. This year, the Tour began for the first time in its history in England, in Yorkshire. German Marcel Kittel won the first stage, 118 miles from Leeds to Harrogate. About 400 yards from the finish line, British rider Mark Cavendish collided with Australian Simon Gerans, in front of several British Royals. Cavendish may be out with a separated shoulder.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I, later stages will proceed through major WWI battlefields in France, with 198 riders on 22 teams competing in the three-week, 2,200 mile race.

The 1914 Tour was the last Tour held until after the war, in 1919. Fifteen cyclists from the 1914 Tour were killed in the war.


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