Controversy at the 2006 Tour de France

Controversy at the 2006 Tour de France

The 2006 Tour de France was set to be another of a long line of great races. The field, though without multiple time champion and cycling legend Lance Armstrong, was a competitive one, and the route was superb as usual. No one rider was primed to dominate, and the cycling world, while obviously sad to see Lance Armstrong go, was reinvigorated by the prospect of a tight race that nearly anyone could win.

One of the contenders to win was American cyclist Floyd Landis, who had experienced success in the cycling world and was known as a versatile rider who could sprint as well as climb at a high level. He had been personally recruited by Lance Armstrong to race along with him on the U.S. Postal Service team, and had started off 2006 with a couple of wins, including at Paris-Nice. Even though he obviously had all the tools to win the race, he was considered one of many contenders who could do so.

Floyd Landis’ chances were bettered when two of the race favorites, Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, were suspended and barred from participating just days before the 2006 Tour de France began. However, Landis himself didn’t get off to the greatest start when the race opened. A cut tire in one stage and a handlebar malfunction in another conspired to keep him back from the lead through the first several stages of the race.

However, in the middle portions of the race, Landis surged as he was able to lean on his climbing skills during difficult mountain stages. Unfortunately, on Stage 16, Landis fell far back, going from first place to eleventh in the overall standings. In doing so, he provided himself a stage (no pun intended) to put on a great show of courage and fortitude, although it would later become infamous for more controversial reasons.

During Stage 17, Landis battled to win by over six minutes, coming to close within the lead that was held by Oscar Pereiro. He would continue the comeback in the final stages, and was crowned as the 2006 Tour de France champion in one of the greatest races in recent memory.

Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there. During the mandatory testing at Stage 17, Landis had failed a urine test, as he had an 11:1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. Landis quickly denied doping, but his backup test came up with the same result, and he was suspended and released from his team, Phonak.

Landis maintained his innocence, and proposed a variety of ways that his sample may have been tainted, misinterpreted, or resulted from normal human activity, not doping. However, an arbitration did not go Landis’ way, and in September of 2007 Pereiro was crowned as the new 2006 Tour de France champion.

Unfortunately, the win by Pereiro, and the exciting finish to the race itself, was marred by the new reality of performance-enhancing drugs and the problems they cause to all sports. Although Pereiro is as legitimate a champion as they come, it’s hard to say that no luster has been taken off his considerable accomplishment after the circus that resulted in the media and in the courts. Landis himself is still fighting for his innocence, but he will likely not be able to change the minds of those who are convinced by the test results. It’s truly unfortunate that such a historic year of a legendary event was decided in the courtroom, and not on the roads of France.