Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tour opening amid 'soap-opera drama'

Alberto Contador says he is mentally tough enough to defend his Tour de France title amid the pressure and scrutiny of his doping case. The Spaniard begins his quest for a fourth win — and third straight — today.

Associated Press

Alberto Contador says he is mentally tough enough to defend his Tour de France title amid the pressure and scrutiny of his doping case. The Spaniard begins his quest for a fourth win — and third straight — today.

The Tour de France begins today on France's west coast, and the best riders will share the same goal: win cycling's most prestigious race and beat Alberto Contador, the Spanish rider who has dominated the event the past two years.

But this year, in a strange twist, finishing second to Contador might not mean defeat. Even after the Tour ends July 24 in Paris, that runnerup might still have a chance to claim the 2011 title.

Contador tested positive for clenbuterol, a banned weight-loss and muscle-building drug, at last year's Tour, and a hearing scheduled for Aug. 1-3 at the Court of Arbitration for Sport will determine whether he should be barred from competing. He insists he is innocent and failed the test because he ate contaminated beef.

If the court rules against him, he will be stripped of his 2010 Tour title and any other victories since then — including this year's Giro d'Italia crown and, perhaps, this year's Tour title.

"It's really hard to understand why he's still racing," said Rolf Aldag, team manager of the HTC-Highroad squad and a former Tour rider. "I'm not sure why they couldn't make a quicker decision about whether he is guilty or not. The problem is that everything is so up in the air right now, and that's not good for anybody."

For a sport battling its image as one filled with dopers, Contador's participation in the Tour ushers in yet another awkward period for cycling.

In 2006, Floyd Landis tested positive for testosterone after his Tour win and was stripped of the title. In 1998, the Festina team was kicked out of the Tour for doping. Top finishers, including 1996 Tour winner Bjarne Riis, have admitted they used drugs to boost their performance.

But this year, the cloud of doping over the Tour has a much farther reach. Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour winner, is not competing after retiring this year, but allegations of his doping will be a hot topic.

For some fans, though, scandals are just another part of cycling, said Bob Stapleton, who owns the HTC-Highroad team.

"The problem is some fans are used to this controversy, and it has actually become part of the appeal," he said. "In Europe, there's almost an addiction to this supermarket drama, this soap-opera drama. It wouldn't be the Tour de France without it."

Organizers are not thrilled Contador is going for his third straight Tour win with an unresolved doping positive. But they must live with it because the Spanish cycling federation in February absolved him of wrongdoing, clearing him to race.

The case did not have to unfold this way. After the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency appealed the Spanish cycling federation's ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the hearing was scheduled for June, but one of Contador's lawyers could not make that date.

Phil Liggett, the British commentator for Versus and NBC who will be working his 39th Tour, said the real victim of Contador's unanswered questions could be the sport itself, particularly if the court rules against him and his Tour titles are stripped from him.

"It will make the sport a laughingstock," Liggett said.

.Fast facts

Tour de France

What: 98th edition of the premier cycling race

When: Today through July 24 with two rest days (July 11 and 18)

Route: 21 stages covering 3,430.5 kilometers (about 2,131 miles) through France and Italy.

Notable: The race features 10 flat stages, six mountain stages, three medium mountain stages, one individual time trial and one team time trial.

Today on TV: 8 a.m., Versus

Tour opening amid 'soap-opera drama' 07/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011 10:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  2. Rays journal: Kevin Kiermaier returns, Mallex Smith sent to Triple A

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It didn't take CF Kevin Kiermaier long to make his presence felt during his return Friday to the Rays lineup. Kiermaier pretended to have Mariners DH Nelson Cruz's first-inning line drive lined up even as the ball went past him to his right and to the wall.

    Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) flies out in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  3. Rays vs. Mariners, 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Mariners

    6:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    This is a 2017 photo of Jake Odorizzi of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. This image reflects the 2017 active roster as of Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  4. Bucs journal: Starting defense disappointed holding Jags to 1 rushing yard

    Bucs

    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs' starting defense held the Jaguars to a total of 1 rushing yard on seven carries in the first half of Thursday's 12-8 preseason win.

    And its members were disappointed.

    Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon (24) is thrown for a 1-yard loss as he is stopped by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (54) and defensive end Robert Ayers (91) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) JVS102
  5. Jameis Winston's hardest lesson: He can't always save the day

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Ever wonder what in the world goes through Jameis Winston's mind when he tries to fit the ball in a keyhole as he is being dragged to the turf like he was during Thursday night's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars?

    Jameis Winston, left, tries to hang on to the ball as Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler tries to strip it from him.