The Tour and Drugs

News & Results

07/2/2004| 0 comments
by David Cohen

The Tour and Drugs

Backgrounder on 100 years of doping in cycling.

that to survive on the Tour, let alone win it, being ?superhuman? wasn?t enough: some sort of assistance was required.

 

In the 1960?s the Tour?s drug problems became a public issue in France and the French government passed legislation in 1966 that made it a criminal offence to consume, prescribe or offer certain listed drugs, which artificially improved an athlete?s performance.

 

Ironically, the year after the legislation was passed, the Tour experienced a drug-related tragedy that haunts it still today.

 

This was the death of English rider Tom Simpson who collapsed and died riding up the always-challenging Mont Ventoux in extreme heat (one thermometer registered 55C).   When rescuers reached him, his dying words were that he be put back on his bike.

 

An investigation into Simpson?s death indicated that he had been taking amphetamines and methamphetamines before he collapsed. The verdict was that these drugs might have prompted Simpson to ignore the limits of his natural endurance as he climbed Ventoux that day.

 

But even though Simpson?s death shocked the cycling world it did not stop riders from seeking an advantage by taking drugs ? and of course avoiding detection.   Witness the major drug scandal that hit the Tour in 1998 and that threatens this year?s event even before it starts.

 

Some riders in the past spoke out against the hypocrisy that surrounds the drug issue.   In the 1960?s the peloton even conducted a go-slow demonstration against drug testing.

 

Both Jacques Anquetil, the first rider to win five
Tours
, and the great Italian Fausto Coppi, who won three, freely admitted to taking drugs.   They said it was necessary to survive the rigours of the sport.

 

?You?d have to be an imbecile or a hypocrite to imagine that a professional cyclist who rides 235 days a year can hold himself together without stimulants,? Anquetil said.

 

Riders no longer say such things.   But do some riders think them?

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