Doping Center Stage

Hosted by

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.

Well, you could bowl me over with a feather. You could. I could have sworn that the organizers of the Tour de France were right when they said at the start of the race that the field might be thin this year, but at least the field is clean. The sport's watch dogs were sure the Tour de France couldn't fall any farther from grace than having last year's winner busted and having the 1996 winner recently admit that he had drugged his way to his yellow jersey and having the majority of this year's top twenty riders kicked out before the peleton even left London three weeks ago. No cyclist would be fool enough to venture down the ugly doping road in this climate. But, shockingly, venture they do. Still.

One of the favorites going into the race was Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov, nicknamed Vino. Last Saturday Vino busted out and won the day's Time Trial. Then on Tuesday, he won an arduous mountain stage. But we won't be witness to a thrilling late-stage surge by Vino for the maillot jaune because Vino has been sent home. Yes, he tested positive this week for receiving a transfusion of somebody else's blood.

The man most likely to sip champagne on the Champs Elysees on Sunday, Michael Rasmussen, had last week been thrown off the Danish national team due to revelations that he has not only ducked drug tests this past year….but he is accused now of ordering banned bovine blood products as well.

Yesterday, those accusations escalated. It turns out Rasmussen lied to doping officials, saying in June that he was unreachable and untestable in Mexico when he was in fact in Italy. As of this morning, Rasmussen was sent packing and the few clean Tour cyclists left on the planet demonstrated their disgust. The peleton sat still on their saddles in protest, the occasional rider slowly meandering down the road. The elite they used to chase around the perimeter of France have shredded every ounce of credibility from the heart of the once-glorious Tour de France.

One could say baseball is enmeshed in the precise same scandal as cycling, now that we're just a few days from Barry Bonds breaking one of the most hallowed records in all of sport. But, au contraire, the Bonds case is entirely different.

One, steroids were not illegal in baseball during the time Bonds is accused of using them. Two, Bonds has never tested positive for steroids. Three, if Bonds and Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard and Hideki Matsui were all busted for illegal performance drugs in one week, then we'd have a comparable situation to the Tour de France.

Last night Bob Costas interviewed a chemist named Patrick Arnold on television. Arnold claims Barry Bonds took a substance he created, called “the Clear”, a steroid. Arnold says the Clear not only adds muscle bulk but improves eye-hand coordination. I personally question that claim. To my knowledge, no chemical enhancement we know of at this time can improve one's ability to track a ball and connect a bat with the ball. But let's say Barry Bonds took the Clear, gained muscle mass, hit some homers farther than he would have without the Clear. I still don't believe steroids helped him read the pitch, connect with the pitch, much less play a part over the majority of his career when he wasn't on the Clear. It takes a long list of assets, some intangible such as experience and instinct, to hit 756 homers. It will probably be borne out that Barry Bonds is one of many men of his generation to experiment with steroids for a part of his career. Not that that's right. But there is no doubt that he is a multi-skilled champion. That textbook swing wasn't built by steroids. Doping should be a side bar story when he cracks number 756 and moves into the history books. At the Tour de France, doping aids red blood cells to deliver oxygen to the muscles. We can't tell what's getting a rider so quickly to the top of the Alps any more. At the Tour de France, doping is the only story.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And that's The Score.

Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images



Diana Nyad