Tour De France 2012: Why Cycling's Greatest Race Has Become Irrelevant in the US

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Tour De France 2012: Why Cycling's Greatest Race Has Become Irrelevant in the US
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong's departure from the cycling scene can be looked at as the sole explanation for why the majority of the United States no longer cares about the Tour de France, but there is a much deeper reason for the race's irrelevance.

One word would suffice. One heinous, forbidden, condemnable word in the sport of cycling is now the reason why the Tour de France no longer matters on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Doping.

The IAAF has been trying to quell the use of doping since the 1920s. At first, athletes were using stimulants—nothing like the practice of blood doping that we have come to know.

When Danish cyclist Knud Enemark died in the 1960s Olympics and his autopsy revealed traces of amphetamines, there was a public outcry to increase athlete testing. Testing for anabolic steroids came along in the 1970s and resulted in a higher amount of athletes testing positive for such substances.

Then the proverbial excrement hit the rotating oscillator sometime in the mid-70s.

"Blood boosting," or blood doping, as we now know it, hit the scene. Athletes began to remove their blood and re-infuse it back into their system, hoping (and often succeeding) to "increase the level of oxygen-carrying haemoglobin."

The International Olympic Committee did its best to rid competition of the illegal practice but to no avail.

It was all downhill from there.

Erythropoietin (EPO) became the method of choice to increase the level of haemoglobin in the blood. The IOC couldn't figure out a way to reliably test for the substance, so athletes took advantage of this and ran roughshod with the performance enhancer.

It wasn't until the Sydney Olympics in 2000 that the first effective EPO detection test was approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency and implemented.

As hard as the committees tried, they were still thwarted by the crafty athletes and their camps.

Here is an excerpt from a Business Insider interview with former cyclist Joe Rapp:

Business Inside: Why do cyclists get into doping?

RappWhen I was a cyclist I found I had unexplained trouble keeping up with people I used to be competitive with. I asked a teammate what had changed, and he told me to see a particular doctor a couple of hours away. I did, and within a few minutes, she'd written me a prescription for the EPO. It was barely questioned 10 years ago--doping was an integral, unquestioned part of the sport.

That's why nobody in the United States cares about the Tour de France.

It's not the fact that it's thousands of miles away over a vast ocean in France. It's the fact that nobody knows who is performing on sheer talent alone, rather than with the aide of performance enhancing drugs.

Sure, there were and still are steroid users in the MLB, NFL and other sports, but those sports are established aspects of the average American's everyday life. In a sport much less prominent such as cycling, those in charge cannot afford such a terrible blemish on its reputation.

There have been 24 men to win the Tour de France since 1957. Eleven of those men have either tested positive for, or admitted to using performance enhancing drugs.

Jacques Anquetil, Lucien Aimar, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Thevenet, Joop Zoetemelk, Laurent Fignon, Bjarne Riis, Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani, Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador are the 11 men whose reputations have been tainted for their dubious transgressions. Five of those men won more than one time.

That's not even counting Armstrong, who has ran into some more trouble of his own lately.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Deplorable is the word that comes to mind when presented with that statistic. Of the 24 best cyclists of their respective years in the sport's biggest race, 11 have tested positive or admitted to using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

That's like a team winning a championship in a major American sport, then the best player on the team testing positive for PEDs...almost 50 percent of the time their team won.

To my knowledge, the only team to have that happen was the 1989 Oakland Athletics (Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire).

To make things worse, eight different men have won the race since 1996. Five of those men have either tested positive for EPO or other PEDs, or admitted to using such substances.

If you include Armstrong, depending on where you stand in regards to his innocence or guilt, that number comes to six.

In a sport where so much relies on individual athletic ability and nothing else, a field ridden with blood doping and other performance enhancing drugs is the worst possible thing that can happen.

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It's impossible to root for any man who could be cheating his way to the finish line. One time is forgivable. Two, three and four times is forgivable, but half of the Tour de France champions since 1957 have essentially cheated their way to victory.

That, folks, is why nobody cares about the Tour de France. 

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