The reigning Tour de France champion, Geraint Thomas, is confident that ‘cycling is one of the cleanest sports around’. The Welshman is precise to feel fortunate to be competing now than during the times when the sport and its reputation were trapped in the practice of doping. It is hard to say if the present is entirely unblemished, but let’s look back at the famous cases that rocked the cycling world to the core; lest we forget.
It’s been six years since he made the big confession at Oprah Winfrey show on January 17, 2013. He was stripped of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles (1999 to 2005) after found to have taken performance-enhancing drugs during the most of his career. Such was the American rider’s image that despite rounds of investigations and denials (obviously on his side) nothing could shake the faith of many in him till they heard it from his own mouth. He was undoubtedly the biggest revelation or letdown in the history of cycling, but he wasn’t undoubtedly the first or the last.
His 11 Grand Tours victories in the 60s and 70s – five Tours of France, five Tours of Italy and a Tour of Spain, are still unequalled. Nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’ and probably the most successful rider in the history of cycling, he was involved in three separate doping incidents during his otherwise enviable career. The Belgian, however, never tested positive during the Tour de France and his 34 stages win in the Tour de France are the most won by any cyclist. Merckx recorded 525 wins over his 18-year career.
Just before the start of the 1998 Tour de France, a large haul of doping substances was found in a Festina team car. The investigation that followed revealed systematic doping and a widespread doping network including many of the cycling teams. The hotels were searched, many ex and current riders interrogated and they confessed, team personnel arrested and detained, and several teams withdrew from the race. Within a couple of years, all nine Festina riders confessed to using various types of doping substances.
He was hailed as the master of mountains as he was a rider who specialised in climbing, time trial and descending. It took the American four years of contesting the allegations of doping before admitting to continual doping in 2010. He even admitted that top riders on his team, including Armstrong, doped as well. He, in fact, seemed to have gone a step further as a French judge issued a national arrest warrant for him on the charges of hacking related to doping allegations.
The Spaniard was regarded as the successor of Armstrong. With two Tour de France, two Giro d’Italia and three Vuelta a Espana titles under his belt, he is clearly one of the most successful riders of the era. However, his glory was dealt a big blow by doping allegations. Apart from the alleged connection in famous Operación Puerto case in 2006, he was stripped of his winning yellow shirt in 2010 Tour de France and overall fifth position in 2011 after his urine sample was found to contain traces of clenbuterol.