Integrity is a fickle beast because it can take years to gain and yet in a flurry of words or a televised press conference, it can be lost forever. Which brings us to the integrity-destroying, hot pot of denial that is the Tour de France.
The 2012 instalment of Le Tour saw a number of riders say goodbye to their hard-earned integrity and a handful firmly entrench themselves as bona-fide champions.
Firstly, we should start with the riders who weren’t lining up for the Prologue. Alberto Contador was tied up serving his two-year doping sentence, which he has vehemently denied. While he still remains a two-time winner of the Tour, he will forever be remembered for the 2010 title which was stripped off him, a stain on a flawless career.
Frank Schleck of the Radioshack-Nissan team left the tour in disgrace after two positive drug tests, a sad end for a respected rider. His brother Andy, who was handed the 2010 Tour after Contador’s failings, now must surely be under suspicion.
However, that brings us to our own chiselled-faced, jockey-esque, high-voiced little aussie hero in Cadel Evans. With a number 1 on his back signifying his success in 2011, Cadel was one of a handful of riders who had the weaponry to win the 3-week race. However, he was hobbled from the start, losing a big chunk of time in the first time trial and from there never looked like he was going to challenge a dominant Sky Team with their side-burns wielding leader Bradley Wiggins.
In what was actually a Tour lacking in any major upsets, the ability of Team Sky to control the proceedings throughout the race, whilst certainly an impressive show of strength, robbed the race of its panache and an Australian victory.
Yet while Cadel failed to take home back-to-back victories, he emerged with something far more important, his integrity, and in doing so, ushers in a new era of cycling. The murky years of the late 1990s and 2000s have thrown up champions and seen them come back to earth with positive drug tests and tattered reputations. From 1996, a string of doping scandals has repeatedly rocked the Tour, Bjarne Riis, Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani, Alexandro Vinokourov, Floyd Landis, Ivan Basso, Michel Rasmussen, Contador, Jesoba Beloki and Schleck all top riders of the past 20 years, all have failed drug tests. Which quietly brings us to Lance Armstrong. Once again under an investigation and hemmed in by facts, however much it pains me to say this, it is looking doubtful that he is the beacon of purity that millions believe. Was he such a phenomenal athlete that he consistently beat his competitors buoyed by drugs? Or did he succumb to the same temptation that they did? The argument for the latter, sadly, grows.
What this means for cycling is that there is a gaping, 15-year hole in the history of the Tour De France, where every champion from 1996-2010 who has either failed or been associated with drugs, must be forgotten.
Cadel’s 2012 race may appear as a failure, and he would agree it was a failure, yet for the health of cycling it should be lauded. The guttural look of agony that was permanently etched on his face for the majority of the race proves that cycling’s grand champion is a clean one. Cadel now ushers in a new era of cycling, a figurehead for a tainted sport, however odd that head may look.