Several days ago, the Tour de France organizers announced that for the first time in the history of the Tour, the race number 1 will not be issued. The number 1 is usually reserved for last year's winner, but if that rider is not competing the number goes to the winner's team (Discovery Channel had it in 2006 as Lance won in 2005). Second-place finisher, Oscar Periero's Casse d'Epargne team will get numbers 11-19, but no team will ride numbers 1-9.
Of course, this is due to the fact that the actual winner of the 2006 Tour is still not determined since Floyd Landis returned a positive result for testosterone. Yes, doping continues to grab the headlines in pro cycling and with each new positive result or rider admission, it seems more and more like pro cycling is WWF on bicycles.
I have been covering professional cycling for 20 years, including my first Tour de France way back in 1988 and I am not going to abandon the sport I both love to participate in and love to report about. Eddy Mercxk once said, "on the bike, there is always suffering." But, cycling is more complex than that. I think back to all the great duels over the years, Coppi and Bartali whose struggles united a post-war Italy; Anquetil and Poulidor, who proved to us all that you didn't have to be a winner (Poulidor was known as the "Eternal Second") to be adored by the fans; Merckx and Ocana demonstrating that even the seemingly invincible could be beaten; Lemond and Fignon showing the true character of the first American to win the Tour and Armstrong and Ullrich proving that even rivals can be friends.
Me, I am looking past the doping for this year's Tour. Can Vinokourov keep his enthusiasm in his shorts and ride a tactically superior race or will he take off like a banshee on the first mountain stage, blow like a top and ruin his chances? Will Levi finally ride a consistently good Tour and climb onto the podium continuing the American dominance? Will Valverde finally live up to all the expectations? Frankly, I don't know what's going to happen and that's what makes it so interesting to watch it all unfold.