As the Tour reaches the high mountains, it's always exhilarating to see riders tackling the Cols of the Pyrenees and the Alps, climbing to heights which even when you view them from the armchair comfort of Google Maps leave me gasping with vertigo. These stages provide the high drama of the tour, and test the mettle of riders to breaking point. But one's enjoyment is now tempered by the realisation that for years we have been witnessing cheating and deception on a grand scale. For reasons which escape me, Marco Pantani is still credited with the fastest ascent of the notorious Alpe D'Huez. And I remember watching him do it, leaping away from his nearest rivals, just at the point when the strongest of them were struggling, as if he were jet propelled. But now we know he was on drugs. In fact he is now dead because of them. And how inspiring it was to watch Richard Virenque tear up mountain after mountain, keeping everyone else at bay, and arrive at the finishing banner looking fresh as a daisy. Same reason - cheating with drugs.
The list goes on - and on (as I documented a year ago and the year before that. In 2006 there was Floyd Landis, and last year sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when Michael Rasmussen was thrown out of the race and hasn't been heard of since.
So who are the prime suspects for 2008? Well, I have to say that after two days in the Pyrenees, my money is on Riccardo Ricco. And I don't care what it says in Wikipedia about his having naturally occurring high levels of hematocrit in his blood, after seeing him sprint past other riders on the Col d'Aspin yesterday, I've got him down as one to watch.
UPDATE - Thursday 17 July
It doesn't give me lots of gratification to say "I told you so" - but Ricco has just been pulled out of the race for a positive EPO test, and dragged the rest of his team down with him.
UPDATE - Friday 18 July
I was about to say that the team didn't need to resign en masse unless there were other problems. And of course the 'other problems' turned out to be the unexpected mountain-top win by two other Duvalier riders earlier this week - both now sacked from the team. What a shambles. What another sad day for the Tour.