Tour de California

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

It’s a big week for cycling in America. The most popular cycling race in U.S. history is mid-way, the Tour of California. The event has in only five years grown so much in stature that its organizers have this year made the brazen move of scheduling the eight-day race at the same time as the famous Giro d’Italia. Along with the Tour de France mid-summer, the Giro in the spring and the Vuelta a Espana in the fall are the top trio of the world’s elite races. To move the young Tour of California from its former February spot on the race calendar and pit it against the Giro, and successfully attract not only Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and the top American riders but several top foreigners, such as English sprinter Mark Cavendish as well, is a sign that the American race has quickly earned a valid place on the world stage of the sport.

The crowds have once again this week been large and fervent. The weather has surely been better than the previous cold and rain of February. But yesterday the race suffered a stab in its proverbial front tire when 2006 disgraced Tour de France winner Floyd Landis admitted to systematic performance drug use throughout his career, including during the year he became the only Tour champion to be stripped of his title. Landis, as is usually the case, pretended outrage when he was dethroned. He swore up and down that his samples had been mishandled, that he had never in his life taken any illegal substance. In yesterday’s confession, not only to the Wall Street Journal but for the first time to his mother as well, he coughed up a long list of the illegal substances he in fact did take for several years. Testosterone, Human Growth Hormone, Erythrypoetin, Insulin, Blood Transfusions. The 34-year-old claims he just couldn’t live with himself any more and needed to clear his conscience.

We think that these revelations by athletes of their drug use will help us set history straight, will help us understand the pressures of their elite world. But Floyd Landis had to clear his conscience yesterday? Smack dab in the middle of America’s most successful road race? Landis calculatedly used the timing of the Tour of America because Lance Armstrong, Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer are the names pulling in the headlines day by day this week. He chose yesterday because he named these three Americans as fellow cheaters and sleazily wanted to use their race attention to be clear that his confession is more than about himself. It’s really all about them. He detailed taking drugs with Lance, in Lance’s European apartment.

So now Floyd Landis is not only a flat-out cheater, he’s a reprehensible snitch. Marion Jones, who was stripped of all her Olympic Track and Field medals from the Sydney Games and is now resurrecting her athletic career as a professional basketball player with Tulsa Shock of the WNBA, received an ovation from the crowd when she first stepped onto the hardwood over the week-end. There is a collective public sentiment of forgiveness when athletes are humbled by their mistakes. But when they are eager to spill the beans on others, we draw the line. Landis doesn’t want to clear his own noble conscience. He wants to drag down his former teammates, to prove that he shouldn’t be considered the pariah of his era in the sport, but just one of many. Yet while cheers will emanate from the crowds along the hills from Visalia to Bakersfield for Armstrong and Zabriskie and Leipheimer, no clapping will erupt for Landis as he lurks around the finish line, feeding the press corps with further tawdry tales of his fellow riders.

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

Banner Image: MODESTO, CA (Left to Right) David Zabriskie (L) of the USA and rding for Garmin-Transitions, in the race leader golden jersey, is shadowed by Lance Armstrong (2nd L) of the USA and Team Radio Shack as they support team leader Levi Leipheimer (R) of the USA during Stage Four of the 2010 Tour of California from San Jose to Modesto on May 19, 2010 in Livermore, California. Zabriskie successfully defended the jersey during the stage. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)



Diana Nyad