the tour de france’s problem

Posted on July 6, 2007

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The 94th Tour de France race is starting tomorrow in London.

But would anyone really care?

After the spate of scandals about top cyclists doping and last year’s winner Floyd Landis still under a cloud of suspicion of having shot up to win, it’s doubtful if many people would be paying much attention to this year’s proceedings, let alone tune in to watch on Versus.

The television network has admitted that the reputation of professional cycling had been tainted with an ad it took out in the newspaper, USA Today. Ratings are also expected to be low, after last year’s race had a 49 per cent drop in ratings from that of 2005’s. The network’s senior vice president of marketing conceded to the Wall Street Journal that a “scandal-free Tour will be crucial this year” not only for the Tour, but also for the network.

I got hooked to cycling after I heard about this rider named Lance Armstrong from my friends, who were raving about how he came back from fighting cancer, to fight the mountains of France, and amazingly, win.

Armstrong kept us riveted and gave many of us many more reasons to keep watching in the subsequent years, winning the title seven times in a row. At that time, I was convinced that the Tour is the greatest sporting event as it taxes the human body and spirit, to produce the finest athletes of any type of sport.

Armstrong himself had been accused many times of doping but that has never been proven.

But after the scandals kept coming, the Tour has become almost farcical, breaking many cycling fans’ hearts and losing credibility and viewership with most, except with the most fanatical cycling enthusiasts.

Amid all the scandals surrounding marque names, it threw the spotlight on the likes of Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton, and took away attention from emerging new stars, not that there had been many coming forth either. Which makes this year’s race wide open for anyone’s taking. On the flip side, it also lacks the star power to draw viewers.

The New York Times published a story today about who this year’s possible contenders could be. At the same time, there’s the hope expressed that this will be the nadir of the Tour and new, clean riders will crop up.

Either way, it’s going to be an uphill climb for the race — both literally and metaphorically, to regain the reverence it used to inspire and evoke.

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Posted in: cycling, france, sports