Doubled Donkeypower

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Back at the Tour de France, the “team time trial” that constitutes Stage 4 yesterday resulted in a strong victory for Lance Armstrong’s Astana team that put him up to second place, just two-tenths of a second behind the current leader, Fabian Cancellara. “Astana cruised so fast along 24.2 miles . . . of narrow and snaking roads,” wrote New York Times reporter Juliet Macur, “that the pack looked like a giant blur of blue and yellow.”

That’s all fine; but we also have, observing from the sidelines, one Antoine Vayer, once a trainer of the Festina bicycle-racing team, but who for ten years now has instead studied athletic physiology intensively, to the point that he is currently Professor of Physical Education at a French university. More to the point, however, is the research organization he has founded, called “AlternatiV,” devoted to the problem of bicycle-race doping. Because now Antoine Vayer has the sort of implacable hostility to that practice that can only come from those who used to be knee-deep in sin themselves.

Along the way, Vayer has also grabbed a cushy summer gig for himself as expert commentator covering each July’s Tour de France for a newspaper, first for Le Monde back in 1999, now for Libération. And it’s in a recent article there (entitled Loaded down like mules) that he puts forward the new approach for detecting doping that he has worked out. (Vayer sets the right tone at the very beginning of his piece with an apt derivative of an ancient saying: Male sanus in corpore inhumano, or “Unsound spirit in an inhuman body” – it’s supposed to be “Sound mind in a healthy body” – but I frankly found the exposition of his ideas to be clearer in a an article appearing somewhat later in Le Monde, Tour of Fraud: from “miraculous” to “mutant” doping, by the writer “E.M.,” which is also what alerted me to this issue in the first place.) (more…)

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