As the post-Lance Armstrong era in professional cycling is only hours from beginning, doping allegations have once again tainted the Tour de France. In perhaps the biggest doping scandal since 1998, stars Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Ivan Basso (CSC) have been suspended by their cycling teams and barred from entering the race by race director Jean-Marie Leblanc. On May 23, Spanish authorities arrested Eufemiano Fuentes, a doctor who worked with riders from the Liberty Seguros-Würth team because of allegations that he had performed "blood-transfusions" on over 50 professional cyclists. Spanish police seized nearly 200 bags of blood which were ultimately linked with rider's in this years tour, including Ullrich and Basso. In the investigation, the UCO has documented evidence linking Fuentes with Jose Luis Merino Batres, who is in charge of a blood transfusion laboratory in Madrid. This evidence ranges from telephone, photographic, and video over the course of a four month period prior to this years tour. In addition to the 200 bags of blood discovered, authorities also found dozens of doses of anabolic steroids / hormones, products to manipulate the steroids, and freezers designed to store blood for transfusions.
In light of the recent allegations against Lance Armstrong by both British writer David Walsh and former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, one wonders about Armstrong's possible connection. It is ironic that Armstrong retired "just in time" before tour officials started implicating more tests and searches of the athetes competing. But, before one ponders Armstrong's guilt, one must realize that none of Armstong's team member's, several of which are from Spain, were implicated in this scandal. In a sense, Armstrong comes out clean from this mess.
But, Armstrong will forever be remembered as the last rider to win Le Tour during the "Doping Era" of professional cycling, whether this is a fair characterization or not. Because Armstrong ( athlete Armstrong) stands for "cocky" and "coorporate" America, the French will forever connect Armstrong to this era despite never testing positive for anabolic steroids (although he did test positive in 1999, but it was later determined to reside from his use of antiobiotic cream used for saddle sores). Unfortunately, one of the most competitive Tours in recent time has been crippled from the allegations of blood doping and EPO use.