Reactions to Ricco’s Positive Test

July 17, 2008 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

Earlier today the news broke that yet another cyclist has tested positive in this year’s Tour De France.  Ricardo Ricco was led away by French police and his team, Saunier-Duval, withdrew from the Tour immediately after the announcement that it’s 24-year-old team leader had tested positive.  Ricco had won two stages of this year’s tour, including an impressive performance in the mountains where he destroyed the competition just a day after his performance had been questioned.

Fair or not, this whole situation brings back memories of Floyd Landis in the 2006 tour.  Landis, who had been among the cyclists thought to have been in contention for GC title hopes, had a couple of horrible days and then had an amazing ride in the mountains to close the gap and take over the yellow jersey.  Ricco’s leap wasn’t quite at that level, but anyone who saw him accelerating over those hills a few days ago will understand the similarities between the two.

As an avid cycling fan who has watched every stage of this year’s tour live every morning (it’s great not having a job yet!), I can say that I have very mixed reactions to this latest positive test.  

On the one hand, I’m angry that these cyclists continue to dope and continue to dirty the reputation of cycling.  The doping stories are the only stories that make the national news.  A casual cycling fan or someone whose only knowledge of the race comes from Sportscenter will not know about the other great stories in this year’s race such as the successes of Team Columbia and Team Garmin-Chipotle or the speed demon, Mark Cavendish’s three stage wins.  Sadly, all these fans will hear of is the selfish acts of the “athletes” who comprise the lowest-common denominator in professional sports.  

Unlike the doping stories that have clouded over baseball or other more popular sports in years past, many American sports fans are simply too unfamiliar with cycling to have any perspective on the sport.  For example, where a baseball player gets caught doping, many fans are familiar with enough players to look to those as examples of clean players and can simply write off the cheater as a one-off in their minds.  With cycling, on the other hand, many people have no idea about the majority of riders, so it’s easier to lump everyone in with a cheater, especially given the sport’s history in recent years.  It’s a sad truth, but until cycling proves otherwise, this reputation will persist even if it is undeserved.

On the other hand though, I’m glad to see that cheaters are getting caught.  It’s impossible to say whether or not everyone that is cheating is getting caught, but the simple fact that there are positive doping tests coming back shows that the Tour is making an effort.  Additionally, the new French law which makes it a crime to bring drugs such as EPO into the country will hopefully result in the criminal prosecution of some of these riders.  This may seem a bit extreme to some, but obviously the threat of a two-year ban isn’t enough to stop the cheating.  Hopefully, this additional component will force some riders to think twice about cheating.

Overall, I don’t think Ricco’s positive test will hurt the Tour or the sport–quite frankly the tour has nowhere to go but up after the events in recent years.  The reaction by race officials and French authorities has been strong and swift.  I’d like to think that nobody else will get caught doping this year, but I feel that such hopes are simply that: hopes…I think another positive test or two is inevitable.  My only hope is that for the sake of the race that one of the leaders doesn’t test positive again this year (see, e.g. 2006 and 2007).

Keep Riding (Cleanly)

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