Six months before it even begins, the 2001 Tour De France is already causing headlines.
Firstly the French sports minister Marie-George Buffet has said she is “sorry” that Lance Armstrong won’t be racing any other French races besides the Tour. Speaking to the press in Paris she said “I am sorry because he is a great champion, because the French admire him a lot”. However she continued “There is the fight against doping, but each person must answer for his actions”. “But that should not stop him from taking part” – a direct reference to the fact Armstrong is racing elsewhere because he feels he is being unfairly targetted by French doping investigations
Meanwhile the ‘Tour itself is under threat as two of its three major sponsors are talking about pulling out this year or next. Credit Lyonaisse – the French bank – are reported to be in serious financial trouble and are apparently trying to decide between saving on such a large financial commitment or keeping the sponsorship going to avoid looking like they really are on the brink of the collapse. Fiat France are also reportedly going to reconsider their options after this years’ event as they’ve become sick of the Tour being so linked with doping stories rather than more positive coverage. From the three big sponsors, this leaves only Coca Cola feeling that the Tour is “the real thing” but you can bet they’ll be some alarm if they suddenly find themselves alone on the headed notepaper.
The irony of course is that cycling has thrown up so many “doping scandals” precisely because – however flawed it may appear – it has one of the most rigorous testing procedures of any sport. Whatever happens to the future of the ‘worlds greatest sporting soap opera’ we’ll let you know about it here first, in the meantime lets hope the fluffy stuffed lion and those frog-eyed people carriers remain part of the Tour scenery for a few more years yet.