There is so much going on at the 2008 Tour de France, I just don't know where to begin. One huge development is the positive test by Riccardo Ricco for EPO. Actually, he tested positive for a very new version of EPO which has only been commercially available since the beginning of the year. This new version of EPO known as CERA or Micera is so new that there is no accepted test for the drug. Remember that this Tour, unlike years past, is not run under the sanction of the UCI. The French Cycling Federation is the sanctioning body and it was their lab who returned the positive test.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that Ricco has a medically-documented high hematocrit level so unless he was over that limit, it is not clear, in the absence of a valid test that he could be found positive. Regardless, the entire Scott-Saunier Duval team has withdrawn from the Tour, shades of 2007 which saw the exits of both Astana and Cofidis when their riders tested positive. However, this time, the decision to remove the team came from Scott-Saunier Duval management and not from the Tour organizers.
This is a very sticky mess that has left a lot of those in the sport shaking their heads. Ricco has been on the watch list since the start of the Tour. When he shot out of the lead group on the Col du Aspin, I joked to one of my colleagues in the press room that it was not a very wise move and now Ricco would clearly be in the spotlight for a doping offense.
On a completely different matter, but slightly related, on the rest day in Pau, 17 of the 18 Pro Tour teams (Astana was not invited to the Tour) announced that they would not be renewing their UCI ProTour license in 2009 effectively killing the ProTour. I don't know too many people who are losing sleep over the demise of the ProTour. While the UCI has stated various reasons for its inception, it appears that the only real reason for starting it was for the UCI to be able to get its hands on the Tour De France's TV money. The UCI should get back to its original charter of sanctioning races and teams. That's what they seem to do best.
How do you all feel about Ricco's positive and/or the demise of the ProTour?
When you are on a roll you are on a roll. Team Columbia looked to have the leadout train dialed to perfection as they gave Mark Cavendish an armchair ride to the finish for win number three. In his post race interview on France 2 TV with Gerard Hotlz he remarked about the victory. "Three wins in very different conditions. It just shows how strong the team is. Even if we don't win another stage we can be very content." Commenting on the exclusion of Riccardo Ricco he remarked, "It is bad for the organization, but it is good for me that the tests do work."
Cadel Evans retains the yellow jersey. He rode very smartly today always being in the front of the peloton in order to avoid any crashes. He commented to Holtz,"it is hard to stay in the first 20, but on days like this it is critical." Looking forward to the difficulties to come, he told Holtz, "Jausier and l'Alpe d' Heuz will be difficult as will the time trial. Last year the final time trial played out like a Hollywood script." And lastly, we learn of the philanthropy of the Australian, "all of my jerseys from the Tour are donated to charities or to people who have helped me in my career." Pretty cool.
OK. On a day when the Tour seems to only be about bad things, I thought this photo would lighten things up a bit. Everyday as the riders come across the finish line and head to the team buses the fans are there to cheer support. In this photo, a rider from the Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi team gives his bottle to one of his Basque fans who will not soon forget this day.