Why can't the French win the Tour de France?

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, July 20, 2010
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Like the Brits' gloomy exits at Wimbledon, French failure in the Tour de France riders has hurt national pride. French riders have failed to secure the yellow jersey since 1985. What are the reasons for the 25 years of hurt? And with Frenchman Sandy Casar winning stage nine, could this finally be the hosts' year?

Ask people to name a sport closely associated with drugs and cycling will spring to mind. Ask them to name a cycling race firmly connected with doping and almost all will finger the Tour de France. And it is drugs - or rather the lack of them - that the French are blaming for their quarter century of under-achievement.

To excuse their failure to win their own Tour, the French point to their refusal to use the performance enhancing drugs their foreign co-riders are so "obviously" taking. A popular thesis is that since the doping scandal of the late 1990s, which saw an entire French team arrested, French riders have eschewed all performance enhancing substances. But this theory fails to point out that even before the scandal of 1997, when runner-up Richard Virenque admitted to taking drugs, the French had not won the Tour since 1985.

When seven-time champion of cycling's biggest event, Lance Armstrong, announced last year he was to return to the race, all the pre-Tour attention was on the competitor labeled in a French magazine as, "the man we love to hate." Part of a concerted effort to completely free the Tour from drugs meant special scrutiny of Armstrong. France's sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot, made it clear that there would be zero tolerance of drugs and the speculation around Armstrong and drug abuse meant the American would be closely watched.

"There really needs to be a very, very active fight against doping. I tell Lance Armstrong that he will be particularly, particularly, particularly monitored," said Bachelot.

And the sports chief kept her word. Last year Armstrong was forced to endure stringent doping tests after each stage, all of which came back negative. The persistent stream of negative screenings supported Armstrong's denials of involvement in doping and undermined the French's insistence that the reason they are consistently beaten is because the other cyclists take drugs.

Repudiation of drugs is not the only argument for France's lack of success in the Tour de France. Some blame a lack of serious training, while others point the finger at the country's waning enthusiasm for the sport. Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to win the Tour de France, blames the country's under-achievement on a lack of gusto and zest.

"There are champions who become like civil servants when they turn pro. You have to put a knife to their throats to get any results. The French earn too much money and don't make enough effort," said the champion of the 1985 Tour and runner-up in 86.

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