Tour de Farce

. Wednesday, September 10, 2008
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It's been 24 hours since American cyclist Lance Armstrong ended his three-year retirement and already the Tour de France frontmen are lambasting their event's greatest champion.

Race director Christian Prudhomme said Wednesday that Armstrong may compete in the event, but emphasized on four different occasions that the seven-time champion would have to clear the Tour's revamped drug-testing program.

Prudhomme's repetition of those statements was not said to be procedural or even serve as a warning, but more of a veiled threat.

Watch out Lance. The French cycling community is out to get you.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 2005, the French sports daily L'Equipe reported that Armstrong used the banned performance enhancer EPO during his first Tour win in 1999. It took 2 hours for then-Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc to vehemently praise the sport's testing policy and proclaim Armstrong as arrogant for thinking he could cheat the system.

In 2006, a Dutch investigator appointed by the Union Cycliste Internationale exonerated Armstrong, saying that the sample had been tampered with after it was locked away in the Tour's own secure storage facility.

It's been two years and the Tour has yet to offer any kind of response, let alone a retraction.

For a race that disqualified its 2006 winner, Floyd Landis, for a positive test and disallowed its 2007 champion, Alberto Contador, from defending his title because of his alleged connection to another prominent doping case, you'd think the Tour would embrace the return of the man who should be their golden boy. Instead, it continues to cast out aspersions like fishing lines, dissatisfied with the catches of yesteryear, hoping to hook one more yellow-jerseyed big one.

There is little question that Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour titles from 1999 to 2005 is the longest run of dominance in any sport. There is little question that come July 4, 2009, Armstrong will be the man to beat in France, despite his 3-year absence from the event.

And there is little question that the embittered French cycling community, which hasn't seen one of its native sons win the event since 1985, will do everything it can to ensure that doesn't happen.

In their eyes, Armstrong has never bested them, he's an excellent fraud who has bested their drug-testing system. He's the one that got away.

And he'll keep getting away, too. Because the farce is not the legitimacy of Armstrong's Tour victories, it's the unbiased portrayal of the body that governs cycling's greatest event.

Make no mistake, Armstrong will win the Tour de France in 2009. He'll again be touted as the world's greatest individual athlete. And that governing body will still be out there fishing, hoping to hook him.

The more things change, the more they stay them same.