American cycling legend Lance Armstrong has become the latest in a long line of Tour de France winners to be stripped of their titles; a retroactive ban for uncontested doping offenses stretching back to 1998 has stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour titles.
From the outset of cycling races, the use of stimulants has been widespread.
As far back as 1867, six-day bicycle races were the home of mixtures and homemade concoctions designed to boost the energy levels of competitors; these energy-boosting mixtures included alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and nitroglycerin. In 1896, the first reported death of an endurance cyclist was recorded as England's Arthur Linton. As times have moved on, the types of drugs used by cyclists have progressed from amphetamines to steroids to blood doping.
July 13, 1967, brought the subject of drugs in professional cycling to the forefront of the Tour de France. England's Tom Simpson, a 30-year-old former world champion, died on the 13th stage of the Tour from heart failure. Climbing Mont Ventoux, Simpson fell from his bike once, as the effects of dehydration, alcohol, and amphetamines later found in his stomach began to take hold. Returning to his bike after the first fall, Simpson fell 500 yards down the road and was later pronounced dead.
Various forms of doping techniques have been used by athletes in professional sports, including cycling. Steroids, including the administering of large amounts of testosterone, has been rampant in sports for decades. The use of blood doping--in which an athlete boosts his number of red blood cells using synthetic substances--has come to the forefront since the discovery of ways to detect erythropoietin, or EPO, in the first decade of the 20th century.
The 2007 Tour de France was thrown into turmoil by the removal of the Cofidis team from cycling's most prestigious event. Following the positive drugs test of Cofidis rider Christian Moreni, the entire team was removed from participating in the remaining stages of the Tour. Then, 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, a member of the 2007 Cofidis team, became a campaigner against the use of drugs in cycling following his decision to leave the team after the 2007 drug scandal. Throughout the mid-2000s, teams were consistently embroiled in doping scandals at the Tour and other major events.
Numerous Tour de France winners have been stripped of the titles they won while using drugs from the 1990s onward. Alongside Armstrong, Tour winners Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich were stripped of their titles for drug use between 1992 and 1996. Although riders using EPO could not be detected by drugs tests until the 21st century, riders such as Riis and Ullrich were stripped of titles on the evidence of doctors and teammates who witnessed them using drugs.
Just three days after completing the Tour de France, American Floyd Landis was reported to have tested positive for high levels of testosterone and synthetic testosterone chemicals. Landis was eventually stripped of his title; he joins the 86 percent of Tour winners since 1967 to be implicated in some form of drug scandal.
In 2008, the International Cycling Union established the Cycling Anti-doping Federation. The federation is in control of blood and urine tests for cyclists from around the world, including road and track cycling. In 2009, CADF completed 15,700 random blood and urine tests.
The UCI compiles records of the average blood levels of the athletes under its jurisdiction based on former blood and urine tests. By tracking levels, the UCI can assess the chances of each rider committing doping offences, allowing the group to target riders offering irregular samples. Britain's 2012 Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, believes the measures taken to cut doping have resulted in a cleaner sport.
The 2012 Tour de France was widely seen as one of the cleanest in recent memory, with none of the leading contenders testing positive for illicit substances. Following the 2012 race, the decision of the U.S. Anti-doping Agency to strip the seven-time champion Armstrong of his titles and enforce a lifetime ban is an attempt to remove all traces of drug cheats from the history of the sport.
Paul Cartmell has cycled in amateur events, including road, BMX and mountain biking for over 20 years.