Face it, no one wins the Tour de France on a salad

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The Independent Online
THE Tour de France finishes in Paris today after astonishing scenes in which furious riders claimed to have been subjected to intimate body-searches by French police, acting on the instructions of an examining magistrate. At least five of the original 21 teams abandoned the race and another was expelled, after swoops on hotels by detectives in search of performance-enhancing drugs. Several team officials and riders were temporarily in custody, includingItalian Rodolfo Massi, who was accused of having drugs from the cortisone group in his hotel room.

A Danish rider, the wonderfully named Bo Hamburger, said angrily that "the Danish police wouldn't strip me naked and look up my arse like the French police have done to friends of mine" - a claim which suggests that competitors have been treated more like terrorist suspects than visiting sportsmen. These events took place as Juan Samaranch, veteran president of the International Olympic Committee, challenged the ban on drugs in competitive sport. He drew a distinction between substances which harm athletes and those which merely assist their performance, arguing that only the former should be regarded as "doping". His intervention prompted an angry reaction from Steve Ovett, winner of the 800 metres gold medal at the 1980 Olympics, who accused the IOC president of wanting to "throw in the towel" in the fight against drugs.

Allegations of "doping" are taken so seriously that the British athlete Linford Christie recently won damages from a defunct magazine which had suggested he used drugs to enhance his performance. A jury agreed he had been grievously libelled. Why should this be? At one level, the horror of drugs in sport is a manifestation of the wider panic that has prompted the Government to appoint a "drugs tsar" and refuse to debate the decriminalisation of cannabis. The fact that half the world seems to be obsessed with legal drugs such as Prozac and Viagra is one of life's little ironies. But it is also clear that the idea of using hormones such as erythropoietin, which increases stamina, offends against the British (and French) sense of fair play.

According to a view whose roots lie in the 19th-century cult of amateurism, sportsmen and women should not try to gain unfair advantage. Their bodies should be as free of drugs as yours or mine - even if mine, like any hay fever sufferer, is currently awash with anti-histamines. Yet the idea that there is anything "natural" about the physique of competitors in international sporting contests does not stand up to a moment's scrutiny: the degree of fitness required by the Tour de France is achieved only by riders who are prepared to cycle 30,000 miles a year in preparation. "Let's not be hypocrites," said Nicholas Chaine of the Credit Lyonnais bank, which sponsors the race. "You just don't do that on fizzy mineral water and salads." His honesty is refreshing, blowing a hole in the ethic that holds that dedicating your life to punishing workouts, way beyond the limits of most people's purse and endurance, is absolutely normal.

Olympic-standard athletes are different from the rest of us, regardless of whether they use drugs. The decision to treat riders in the Tour de France as criminals is the ludicrous result of refusing to recognise that reality; its logical outcome would be a race in which all the competitors had neither taken drugs nor worked out more than a couple of times a week, with certificates from the police to prove they weren't over-using their local gym. Instead of taking three weeks, the race would take three months - and wouldn't that be exciting for the rest or us?

A HOUSE of Commons committee said last week that the Millennium Experience needs to be livened up, if it is not to bore children. By coincidence, on the day the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport issued its report, I took my mother on a boat trip to see the Millennium Dome, under construction on a spur of land known as the Greenwich peninsula. En route, the commentary from our guide was punctuated by increasingly tetchy observations on the behaviour of a group of teenagers who sprawled on deck and hung out of the boat's windows letting out noisy squeals.

When we finally got close to the Dome, I realised that what I had taken for cranes were part of the suspended roof's support system. And it dawned on me that the structure is really a very large tent, a gigantic Big Top, which could easily be mistaken for a municipal sports stadium. By now, as the boat turned round, the dispute between the schoolchildren and the guide was hotting up. "Brought up in a dustbin, were we?" he demanded, an exchange which ended in mutual threats to write complaining letters. Next morning, I read extracts from the select committee's report and discovered we were all suffering from "irritable Dome syndrome". Its effect obviously isn't confined to children, and the prospect of 12 million fractious visitors - the Government's own estimate - descending on Greenwich in 2000 makes the mind boggle.

THE CLITORIS, according to new research from Australia, is bigger than anyone thought: twice as large as textbooks show and 10 times larger than the average person realises. Reports of this discovery asserted that the word clitoris comes from a Greek noun meaning "little hill", ignoring the etymology proposed by a French encyclopaedia in 1813. The Dictionnaire des Sciences Medicales sourced clitoris to the Greek verb kleitoriazein, meaning to touch or titillate, which makes more sense to me than any geographical feature, little or otherwise.

The research also sheds light on an old controversy. A 19th-century expert on public health, Jean-Baptiste Parent-Duchatelet, demolished the popular theory that prostitutes had unusually large clitorises; anxiety about the size of the clitoris can be traced back to the Romans, who knew that it was the source of female erotic pleasure but heaped abuse on large ones (there's an example in Book I of Martial's Epigrams, if you want chapter and verse). I wonder what they'd make of the news that, not just the occasional superwoman, but every single one of us is more generously endowed than anyone believed. And where does that leave penis envy?