Tour de France 2014: When is a rest day not a rest day? When it's spent in the controversial world of Le Tour
Tuesday sees the remaining riders take a break from the action, but history shows that doesn't mean the news stops flowing
Monday 14 July 2014
Rest days on the Tour de France provide an uncomfortable paradox.
The name conjures up images of repose- of exhausted, sun-baked riders slumbering in the shade of an incorruptibly beautiful French vineyard after a gentle spin on the bike in the morning.
In reality, the Tour’s day of Sabbath has often been the scene of some of its most infamous controversies.
Free from the constant strains of racing, the riders have an awful lot more time to fulfil their media obligations- which can result in some tough, bordering on unfair questioning.
Take the second rest day of last year’s Tour. Chris Froome had just taken the finest victory of his career on Mont Ventoux, with a vicious seated acceleration that saw him fly clear of his nearest rival, Alberto Contador.
He should have been basking in that achievement beneath the Provençale sun. Instead, he found himself in the middle of an excruciatingly awkward press conference where the validity of his and his team’s performances was called into question.
That was mild compared to some of the iniquities of Tour rest days past. The 2007 race was particularly bloody- in the most literal sense of the word.
On the second rest day, the Spaniard Iban Mayo was dope tested. Following the conclusion of the race, the sample came back positive for EPO.
On that same day meant for nothing more than repose, the Danish rider Michael Rasmussen, who at that time was leading the race held a 50-minute press conference in an attempt to explain why he had missed a series of out-of-competition drugs tests.
Rasmussen told the media that he had been training in Mexico. But the Italian ex-pro Davide Cassani, working for the television station RAI confirmed that he had seen the Rabobank leader riding in the Tuscan hills- at the same time he should have been in Central America.
Video: UCI President Brian Cookson on the doping test procedure
After the pressure on him reached intolerable levels, Rasmussen was forced to withdraw from the race- but his nightmare truly began on a day when he should have been kicking back with his feet up.
Alberto Contador is sitting pretty in this year’s race as it moves into its second week- but the Spaniard has had rest day problems of his own in the past. He lost his 2010 Tour de France title and was banned for two years after a test conducted on that race’s second rest day revealed the presence of Clebuterol.
Of course, cycling’s greatest larcenist of all is not immune from the spirit of lawlessness that has often infected the peloton on rest days. Lance Armstrong saw this time off from racing as a prime opportunity to better prepare his team for the challenges ahead.
On the first rest day of the 2004 Tour, Armstrong and his US Postal squad checked into a French hotel- and underwent blood transfusions.
A year later during the Tour of 2005, French police had planned a raid on Armstrong’s hotel for the second rest day- but were mysteriously called off from their pursuit at the last moment.
It is to be hoped that the first rest day of the 2014 Tour passes without incident. But as has been proven multiple times through the race’s history, the day when nothing should happen is often the most luridly eventful of all.
Three rest days that were anything but restful
1. Tyler Hamilton, 2004 Tour de France
Hamilton had been used to organised doping at US Postal. As the team leader at Phonak, he found the process chaotic- and dangerous. On the evening of the first rest day of the 2004 Tour he received a blood transfusion from the Phonak team doctor, unaware that dead red blood cells were being pumped into his system. "My body felt toxic ... I got my phone and set it next to me on the bed, in case I had to call for an ambulance,'' he recalled in his autobiography, ‘My secret Race’.
2. Floyd Landis, 2004 Tour de France
Long before he blew the whistle on Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis was one of the Texan’s key support riders. That meant he was privy to the privileges afforded to the US Postal inner circle. Landis would later recall lying on a bed during the 2004 Tour’s first rest day to undergo a blood transfusion. Even more amazingly, Landis also claimed that he was denied the use of a second blood bag later on that same Tour- because Armstrong was angry at his impending departure to Phonak.
3. Adolpho Hilieri, 1910 Tour de France
Hilieri had been enjoying a rest day bath when he slipped over in the bath and fell, fatally. His was the first death the Tour had experienced in its seven-year history to that point.
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