Negative Spin

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, September 1999

Negative Spin
After this year's events, will the Tour de France ever be albe to redeem itself?

Early in the morning on July 4, 189 cyclists were pooled together in a mass of spandex and steel when, as if on cue, the skies over western France suddenly opened, sending policemen who'd been busy scrubbing the streets clear of "doping" and "EPO" graffiti scurrying for cover. Thus began day two of this year's Tour de France, which sped away from Montaigu under a cloud even darker than the mantle overhead and even uglier than Outside contributing editor John Brant had predicted in his recent report on the drug-addled race ("Playing Dirty," July).

Judging by the scale of this year's fiasco, one almost wonders how the Tour can ever extract itself from the mire into which it has pedaled. The op‰ra bouffe began on June 5 when defending Tour champion Marco Pantani was yanked from the Giro d'Italia, just two stages shy of victory, after a blood test indicated use of the banned substance EPO; days later he announced his decision to sit out the Tour. On June 14, Jan Ullrich, the 1997 victor, was lambasted in the German press for systematic EPO doping, and five days later he too begged off the Tour. After French superstar Laurent Jalabert was banned from his country's national championships on June 24 for refusing to submit to a blood test, he also withdrew. Finally, on June 25, in a scene that could have been lifted from The Godfather, 150 Italian police officers swooped down on the homes of 30 cyclists during a midnight drug raid, confiscating stashes of EPO, hormones, and blood thinners and threatening to press criminal drug-trafficking charges.

Incredibly, these events paled in comparison with the seemingly interminable saga of Richard Virenque, unofficial bad boy of the international peloton. Indicted but not yet tried on doping charges from the 1998 Tour, the Frenchman was uninvited by race organizers in mid-June and then reinvited two weeks later after the Union Cycliste Internationale ruled he hadn't received fair notice of his dismissal. Despite angry protests from race sponsors who threatened to pull millions from next year's Tour if he rode, Virenque defiantly raced away on July 4 amid an unruly din of cheers and jeers.

Perhaps the only heartening note to the whole business was sounded by Lance Armstrong, who capped his recovery from testicular cancer by winning two time trials and the first mountain stage (at press time, he led the entire field by seven minutes). But even so, the cycling community is still appalled. "We hoped this would be the year the Tour would rebuild," says Sean Petty, director of athlete performance for USA Cycling. "I think it's safe to say, that's not what we've gotten."

Bright Youth Passing Swiftly
"I can do this quite well," says Scott Jurek. If the 25-year-old distance runner from Seattle sounds a tad smug, it's no wonder. On June 26 he became one of the youngest people ever to win the Western States 100ùon his first attemptùbeating five-time champion Tim Twietmeyer, 40. While the young-punk-trounces-old-warhorse theme may not seem like much of a novelty, extreme distance contests like the WS 100 tend to favor veterans over rookies because athletes must gradually build up tolerance for the body-battering mileages. Twietmeyer logged ten finishes before his first win in 1992. Jurek (above) attributes his victory to a strict vegetarian diet and a proclivity for endurance sports left over from his days as a cross-country ski racer. Though he must notch a few more victoriesùstarting with this month's Angeles Crest 100-miler in Californiaùto prove he's no fluke, the old guard needs no convincing. "If I had to pick the person with the best chance of running away from the pack," says Twietmeyer, "it would have been Scott."

When Joe Redington Sr. died at age 82 on June 24 after battling cancer for more than a year, it seemed fiting that his body should be buried in a dogsled near Alaska's Iditarod Trail. After all, Redington, to whom we offered a long-overdue tribute in last month's cover story ("Going to the Source"), was the creative spark behind the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the 1,149-mile mushing marathon from Anchorage to Nome. Born in a tent on the Chisholm Trail in 1917, he arrived in Alaska at age 31, paid $12 for a homestead near Knik, and started breeding huskies. Over the years, his kennels became a starting point for countless mushers, who came to pick champion Redington dogs for their teams and to glean tips from the master. Today, the Iditarod is a $3 million chillapalooza that each year draws up to 76 competitors, has inspired dozens of spin-offs from Europe to South Africa, and serves as the living legacy of its founder. In late June, nearly 500 mushing torchbearersùincluding former champions Jeff King and Susan Butcherùgathered at Iditarod Headquarters just north of Anchorage to remember their mentor. At the memorial service, the Iditarod Trail Committee honored Redington by appointing him "director emeritus" and instituting a new ritual. Henceforth, Redington's name will be spoken during roll call at the start of each ITC board meeting, followed by a moment of silence. And then, in perpetuity, he'll be excused for being out on the trail. ùANNE GOODWIN SIDES

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