As the 98th Tour de France enters its second week, professional cyclists will inevitably be chastised as dopers.
But sports fans' argument that the Tour de France is just too tough of a race to win without doping betrays an ignorance of the prevention measures now in place.
The Tour de France is the toughest and most demanding sporting event in the world. This year's route covers 3,430 kilometres in 21 stages over mountainous terrain, about the same distance as riding between Calgary and Toronto.
In the fight against doping, professional cycling takes a leading role that sets the sport apart from the NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL, CFL and Formula 1, with the goal of working toward clean sport.
Cycling regulates and polices the sport like no other league or sport governing body in the world.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) governs all aspects of the sport, including the professional level. The UCI has signed the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code. The above-mentioned sporting leagues have not.
Every day of the year, professional cyclists must provide a one-hour time slot within the time window of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., disclosing their exact personal whereabouts to the Anti-Doping Administration & Management System (ADAMS). This disclosure efficiently enables officials to test a particular athlete without notice, anywhere and any time.
The visit is unannounced. The athlete will never know when an official may come to test.
Several years ago the UCI became the world's first sporting organization to monitor an athlete's blood profile over time. The program is called the Biological passport.
Professional cycling teams must forward their athletes' blood tests to the UCI quarterly. More importantly, a cyclist's blood may be tested in unannounced visits throughout the year. Each blood test is documented, archived and evaluated over weeks, months and years.
Our Canadian team, SpiderTech powered by C10, contributes $100,000 to the Biological passport annually. This is a mandatory fee imposed by the UCI. When the team reaches World Tour status to compete in the Tour de France, this fee will double. The passport program monitors all our Canadian athletes.
With the most stringent anti-doping protocol in world sport in place, cycling is catching athletes who dope. There will be a few more stupid cyclists who are willing to take the risk and be caught, but there cannot be many left considering the stringent monitoring.
Penalties for doping are complicated but, simply stated, there is a two-year suspension for the first instance and for the second doping infraction, a range between years and a lifetime ban.
Cycling is arguably the cleanest professional sport right now. Some may call that statement bold, but is there another major professional sport that would be willing to sign the WADA accord and abide by its anti-doping policies, and implement the same stringent anti-doping policies as professional cycling?
Probably not. Cycling is the leader.
It would be great to compete in the Tour de France now. With the anti-doping policies in force, young athletes will have a tremendous opportunity to compete in the toughest sporting event in the world with confidence in their own physical and mental ability, without taking banned substances.
It is the task of the current generation of professional riders to earn back the public's trust. The attitude of racing clean must prevail since the alternative is clear: You will be caught.
Steve Bauer won a silver medal in the cycling road race for Canada in the 1984 Olympics and captured 14 yellow jerseys at the Tour de France throughout his career. Bauer, of St. Catharines, Ont., is currently the director of Team SpiderTech powered by C10, Canada's first Continental Professional Cycling team. He writes about the sport on occasion for The Globe and Mail.