Other than the exclusion of some riders and teams before the race, there has been only one incident so far this year--with the expulsion of Miguel Beltran, a "domestique" with the Italian team Liquigas. ("Domestiques" are riders whose chief job is to to the heavy lifting that allows the sprinters and the mountain men to shine. Beltran paved many a path for Lance Armstrong, in his days with U.S. Postal.)
Anyway, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this was an isolated case, and that the teams are finally smart enough to control their riders. As a Wall Street Journal article made clear yesterday, it's only good business. The article cites Jonathan Vaughters, the directeur sportif of Team Garmin-Chipotle, as "an anti-doping stalwart" who asserts that "teams like Garmin, Columbia and CSC-Saxo Bank are putting up enough empirical evidence that sponsors are buying into something they can believe in and isn't going to damage their brand."
It's nice that the two American teams, Garmin and Team Columbia, have been in the forefront of the anti-doping movement. "Garmin-Chipotle and Columbia," writes the Wall Street Journal, "(formerly Slipstream and High Road, respectively) in particular are at the front of the movement to clean up professional cycling, and the teams are awash in favorable press. Garmin-Chipotle captain David Millar, for instance, is an admitted former drug user who has since become an anti-doping advocate; and both teams conduct internal testing that exceeds requirements in an effort to always race clean."
"Bob Stapleton," the article continues, "owner of Team Columbia, agrees. 'These clear and concise anti-doping measures need to be implemented by all teams across the sport,' he said. 'Then I think you've removed the biggest risk element for sponsors and you can focus on what is fundamentally attractive—it's a growing and healthy sport, and it caters to very influential consumers.'" It's a good thing, then, that Team Columbia is performing so well, maintaining an overall lead in the race with Kim Kirchen, from Luxembourg, in the yellow jersey four days in a row; and with their young sprint star, Mark Cavendish, winning a stage on Saturday.
Yesterday, the first serious mountain-climbing day, gave the Italian climber, Riccardo Ricco, the opportunity to streak ahead of the main peloton on a steep mountainside and lead them all the way to the finish. I marvel at the strength of men like this, and their ability to persist despite the obvious pain involved in pushing the human body to its limits and, seemingly, beyond. I'm trusting, for now, that he did it honestly.