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With the Tour de France starting on Saturday and the London Olympics only 28 days away, sports commentators are already talking about the shady side of the two events – several incidents of drug cheating over the decades.
The world’s most famous cycling race has been badly tarnished with regular incidents of substance abuse which first surfaced tragically in 1967 when British cyclist Tom Simpson died after taking amphetamines. In 1998 it became known as the “Tour of Shame” after the entire Festina team was kicked out and later admitted taking drugs.
Since then there has been a catalogue of scandals – 2006 winner Floyd Landis was stripped of the title as was Alberto Contador, the 2010 victor who later tested positive.
Of course, there have been rumours for years about multiple winner Lance Armstrong, but no hard evidence has ever emerged. It remains to be seen if current charges against him stick.
And while organisers and fans hope this year’s Tour will be clean, attention will also be on the Olympics, which is facing its strongest challenge as performance cheats continue to try to beat opponents and the system. There are said to be new drugs which are almost impossible to detect.
But again organisers have warned that competitors risking performance substances will face the most sophisticated anti-doping operation in its history. More than 6 250 samples of blood and urine will be tested during both the Olympics and Paralympics, with about 150 scientists on duty around the clock.
For the first time in Olympics history, a private sponsor – pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline – will provide the facilities for the testers to carry out their work.
It is regrettable that the Tour, starting tomorrow, and the Olympics next month, will be as much a contest between chemist and chemist as it is a challenge of the very best athletic skills.