Friday, June 30, 2006

Tour de France Ruined: Basso & Ullrich Out

With the Lance Armstrong era coming to a close at the end of last years Tour de France, this years race promised to be very exciting. However, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, the two clear cut favorites who finished 2nd and 3rd last year, were kicked out of the tour on doping charges today. Francisco Mancebo, who finished 4th in last years Tour was also among the 9 riders who were kicked out for allegedly using performance enhancing drugs received from the Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

This is a tragic way for Jan Ullrich to end a career that has been so vastly over shadowed by Lance Armstrong. Ullrich won the Tour de France in 1997 and at the time was poised to become the next great cycling champion. Armstrong's miraculous return from cancer to win 7 consecutive tour victories derailed Ullrich ascension. However, Ullrich has finished in the top 4 of Tour de France 8 times including 5 times as runner up, 4 of which were second to Armstrong. This year, Ullrich was coming off a win in the Tour de Suisse and was reportedly in the best shape of his life.

Ivan Basso
was cycling's rising star and 2006 looked to be the year where he claimed his thrown. Basso finished 3rd in the 2004 Tour and 2nd last year. This year Basso crushed the competition in the Giro d'Italia, which is cycling's second biggest event and clearly was in top form.

Basso and Ullrich were poised to battle it out in what was stacking up to be one of the most interesting Tours in years. I have no sypmpathy for any of the athletes that use performance enhancing drugs. However, I truly hope this is a mistake of some kind and that it can be rectified ASAP so that these two great cyclist can participate in this years Tour. Unfortunately, it doesn't look good. Ullrich has already proclaimed his innocence but his own team's spokesman said that the evidence against him and others was "clear enough and didn't leave any doubt."

Many other great riders are still participating and the favorites now include Alexandre Vinokourov, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klodden. However, the field is effectively wide open and I wonder how much satisfaction this years winner will be able take knowing they did not beat Armstrong, Basso or Ullrich.


At July 01, 2006 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Levi Leipheimer in 2006!
George Hincapie!

Laurent Fignon!
Gianni Bugno!
Marco Pantani!

Stephen Roache!

At July 05, 2006 12:47 PM, Anonymous Ari Newman said...

I was looking forward to seeing Basso and Ullrich battle it out in the mountains too, but I don't think the Tour is ruined because they aren't there. This year is shaping up to be very interesting because the teams have to reevaluate their tactics and be more opportunistic. If 5 of the top 10 GC riders got booted from the Tour in week 3, THAT would ruin the tour as it would have screwed up opportuntities that other riders have now to get out in front.

Perhaps there will be some viewership lost because some of the big names in the post-Lance era are not there, but for the die hard fans this year might be even more interesting to watch as the GC is up for grabs by a much larger number of riders who have, perhaps for the fist time, a real shot at making the podium. If the riders implicated in Operation Puerto turn out to be innocent (which is pretty unlikey given the mounting evidence) then this mess will turn out to be the worst injustice in professional sports in a long time.

I can't wait to see how Hincapie, Landis, Evans and others fare in the mountains and the long TT. Losing Valverde yesterday in the crash was a tragic, as he had a real shot too.

I just hope the yellow jersey winner this year doesn't turn out to be a doper too...


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