[33–39] CYCLING'S NEW BEGINNING?
THE 2007 SEASON left pro cycling burning in its own toxic stew. Which has left me psyched for 2008. Why? As painful as the process has been, the sport is finally shedding the cheaters. First came the forced mea culpas from 1996 Tour champ BJARNE RIIS and sprinting specialist ERIK ZABEL, who admitted to taking EPO in the nineties. Even IVAN BASSO, Lance's would-be heir and the 2006 Giro winner, made a cowardly half-confession. Then came the suspension of Tour favorite ALEXANDRE VINOKOUROV, who, like ex–2006 Tour champion FLOYD LANDIS a year earlier, absolutely tanked during one stage, only to smoke the field the next, then fail a doping test shortly thereafter. Before the Tour ended, race leader MICHAEL RASMUSSEN had been yanked for lying to his team to avoid doping controls. By the end of the summer, Floyd had lost his arbitration case and the Discovery Channel team, which had hired scandal-tainted riders in Basso and Alberto Contador (the eventual Tour champion by default), had disbanded.
Now for the good news: A CLEAN GENERATION seems to be taking over. Young riders, who have always deferred to the veterans, are speaking out. British pro Bradley Wiggins wrote an essay in the Observer newspaper titled "Tour Ruined by Old Guys Who Think Doping is Normal." Several riders even staged a protest at the beginning of one stage, stopping in the middle of the road to send a message to the cheats. Teams are instituting costly internal controls that virtually assure their riders are clean. And talk about zero tolerance: Pulling Rasmussen from the race merely for lying took true courage. If Bud Selig had the balls to take the bat from Barry Bonds and slap him with a batting glove in front of America, I'd feel the same way about baseball.