Alberto Contador won the Tour de France this year, meaning his positive doping test should turn up about now. Hark! The sound of our America Online account telling us we have mail is heard.
As nearly every cycling news site on the planet has now reported, Tour winner Alberto Contador tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol during this year's Tour.
Clenbuterol is a stimulant that--while not a steroid or blood doping drug--is a part of the doping regimen. It serves as a red flag for the use of a combination of drugs, much like the phone call you get at 5 a.m. from a friend who "wants to get some friends together and hang out. (sniff.)"
Clenbuterol in the bloodstream means you've been doping. The 5 a.m. phone call means your friend is doing cocaine and is about to make his car disappear with the help of a repo man. Both are bad, but only one will get your TDF crown revoked.
Blood doping and steroid use is so widespread at this point in cycling and has been that the question should be asked: can one win a Tour de France without using PEDs?
The answer is theoretically yes, but it could be quite painful because you'll have to run the entire Tour de France without drugs of any sort. Most people have needed them just to finish the race. This is not an exaggeration: cheating at the TDF is as old as the race itself, and has involved the use of arsenic, poppers, opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine, blood doping, alcohol, and riders just hitting themselves in the face with hammers just to feel something besides the screaming pain of running the Tour. Even on drugs it is among the longest and most gruelling endurance events on earth, and it is run at full-throttle the entire time.
This leads us into the grand misconception that riders in the Tour de France who cheat somehow hop on the bike in a cloud of narcotic haze, saddle up, and then blast away the competition without effort, training, or suffering the agony of cycling. They do, it's just that they recover faster, and can then do it all the next day. This is what makes cycling different, and why incentives against doping haven't worked: so many riders do it that the refusal to dope is a concession of any desire to compete seriously at the highest levels. The Tour is about doing well in a plurality of stages and not just one. You need recovery; you take drugs ("supplements") to aid that recovery'; and then so does everyone else in ever-more-elaborate cycles in order to avoid discovery but maintain competition.
It's a pharmaceutical variant of Mutually Assured Destruction: everyone does it because someone might do it, and therefore everyone ends up doing it. This is why you see the counterintuitive sight of Contador, a rider so obviously gifted physically and mentally, getting caught in the sport's most obvious mousetrap. Doping is a requirement, not an option. I'd bet 50ccs of the prescription drug of your choice that if they throughly tested the runners-up you would have a long chain of positive dominoes. leading back so far the entire exercise would become farcical for the sport and for the Tour.
The historical revisionism will stop with Contador because it has to. The doping, however will continue apace as long as someone suspects someone else of doing it. Thus the cycle of MAD thinking continues, and why you'll continue to see top riders very selectively picked off of the podium for doing what everyone else is doing in the first place.
*Clen Buterol would be a great name for an old Phillies pitcher from the '50s. He'd have a special pitch no one in their right mind uses anymore like "the Buter-Ball," a fastball thrown to bounce exactly ten feet in front of the plate and finish in the strike zone. He would have also been a horrible racist, and his career would have ended in violence when Dick Allen came to Philly and beat him to death with a rake.