Tour's Openness Its Greatest Strength, and Weakness

The rider in question, Cristian Moreni, was met at the finish line by unsmiling representatives of the French National Police, who escorted him off the Col d'Aubisque.

In recent years, the criminal justice systems of various countries have become honorary members of the peloton in their quest to find dopers. Their actions frequently take place out on the open road for all to see, just like the race.

Astana's bus and three others were pulled over and searched alongside a toll booth on a major highway one day this week -- the same toll booth hundreds of journalists were then passing through on their way to the finish line that day. It was only natural that a few of them got out and shot pictures and took notes.

When the news of erstwhile race leader Michael Rasmussen's final fall from grace hit these same reporters' BlackBerry devices and cell phones, there was a mad rush to the Rabobank team hotel in Pau, made possible by the fact that we all had a book telling us exactly where it was.

Rasmussen was undone by a failure to be open. He lied to his employer about where he was -- an act cycling can't afford, since its workplace is any road in the world, and the workers have to be accountable to anti-doping authorities for testing at any time.

Of course, Rasmussen's demise underscores the fact that cycling is open only in a superficial sense. Its doping culture is a dense web of secrets, and riders have become so accustomed to it that obfuscating is the norm, fibbing is habit, and cheating is common currency.

T-Mobile team manager Bob Stapleton, as capable and well-intentioned a person as there is in this sport, said earlier this year that the fight against doping would not be won on the basis of doping tests alone. He said it would take the ability to suspend or fire or prosecute riders on the basis of circumstantial evidence, or at least something less tangible than a beaker of urine or blood.

Rabobank turned the other cheek when Rasmussen went missing for three weeks in June and didn't punish him until he was under the microscope in the Tour leader's yellow jersey and events compelled it. The team's acquiescence to the old see-no-evil philosophy has brought embarrassment and scorn raining down on them in a way that will be hard to reverse. Perhaps that will be one of the first positive deterrents that isn't a positive drug test.

There is still a lot going on underneath the surface in the most open professional sport on the planet. The people who want to change cycling for the better are still cracking the codes and trying to see through the tinted windows on the big team buses.

If doping scandals make you doubt that the physical feats you see in a bike race are real, look again. Look at the whole sport. It's convulsing in a very real, human, imperfect way. Things may get worse before they get better, though it's hard to imagine how much worse they could be than they were this week at the Tour de France.

Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to

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