DRESDEN, Germany -- I get no pleasure out of talking about this today. I am just at a loss.
Reports came out Tuesday that Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for a banned blood transfusion after winning last weekend's time trial. I am hoping it's a mistake. I am hoping that something will prove that my friend didn't do something wrong.
I am so hurt that a cyclist I call a friend, someone I have trained with, someone I have recently praised, could potentially be involved in something like this. I am not making any excuses for anyone, but this is Vino. He is the V.P. of cycling, one of our sport's biggest champions.
Bobby Julich Diary
More Bobby Julich diaries from this year's Tour de France:
July 23: Pyrenees ... and beyond!
July 21: Ready for the mountains? It's all 'Bull'
July 20: Getting 'test' call scary, but worth it
July 18: More doping? I just don't get it
July 17: Vino's suffering, but race far from over
We used to be teammates with Telekom and we used to train together a lot, although that hasn't happened for over a year and a half. Still, Vino has always been inspiring to me as a cyclist because of the zero stress in his life and how he concentrates on the bike. A bomb could go off next to him and he still wouldn't get rattled. Then, he gave us such a ride over the last week at the Tour. Crashing, coming back to win the time trial, losing a ton of time to the leaders, then coming back again to win Stage 15. It was better than a Hollywood script. I am let down that this could be the potential end to the story.
It makes it so much more difficult to face this news. I don't understand why someone would do something like this, risking the welfare of himself, his family, his team, not to mention the pride and respect of fans and cyclists around the world. I just can't come to grips with this.
My teammates and I are getting ready for a race Wednesday, and we're all talking about this with question marks on our faces asking, "What's going on?! How is this still happening?!" We keep seeing it on CNN International and BBC in our hotel rooms, with updates coming every 15 minutes, pictures of Vino riding the time trial. These are the biggest English-speaking news agencies over here. The sportscasters are almost laughing at cycling. One says, "This was the year we were supposed to see a clean tour." The other anchor replies, "Unbelievable." I want to throw a shoe at the television.
I went to bat for my former CSC teammate Ivan Basso last year [he later received a two-year ban this past June]. I had always respected Basso's professionalism. Now, Vino is facing controversy. How does this not touch you to the core? Whom do you trust? I hope Vino has a side to his story that's different because it's already ruined a lot for a lot of people now that Astana has pulled out of the Tour.
I feel like I have to apologize to everyone. I know it seems like I am coming up with excuses. I feel duped myself. I am at the last year or so of my career and I wanted to enjoy it. But news like this is taking that fun out of the equation. It's hard to realize that it's not just "rogue" riders doing this, but friends potentially doing these things and keeping these secrets.
It's happening more frequently now, which has to mean the tests are working on some level. But I am running out of defenses for the sport and I am getting more questions from friends, family, younger teammates. All of us have no idea what's going on. It should put fear into everyone, but I guess the Tour de France brings the beast out of people. We ride in so many other bike races that are run exactly the same way as the Tour. But we put the Tour on this pedestal, it's always do or die for the Tour. But you don't define yourself as a cyclist or a person by just one race. Obviously, it's too much pressure for some people.
I am going to be a spectator pretty soon. I have to wonder when I ride up on my bike to a stoplight, and there is a mother or father in a car with a child and the parent is pointing at me, is that because they're fans or because the parent is saying, "Don't become a cyclist because they're all on drugs." Am I going to be looked at as a hero or as an example of what not to do with your life? I've never felt ashamed of being a cyclist. But, when I've been out on the training routes around my house in France during the month of July, were the people who recognized me wondering, "Why isn't he at the Tour?" I've been insecure about it and it's started to affect me a little more lately.
I know I sound a little negative right now; I guess it's just the shock of this development. But I know in a few days, I'll be more positive again and will be able to see the big picture. These tests are obviously working better; they are carrying them out with more consistency; officials are not afraid to take down the big names. And compared to other sports, our testing is strict. I read a reference in an international edition of USA Today to a football player's one-month suspension for steroid use. Four weeks?! A player can sit out just a month and return for the rest of the season and/or playoffs. For us, a comparable offense is a two-year ban.
This will be my motivation -- to hold my head up high, knowing that we're trying to make it better, especially for the younger riders. My generation is beyond repair; we've made monumental mistakes as far as history is concerned.
But as I said earlier this week, we have to make sure our young riders don't lose their heads. I want a cycling world where those young guys can say, "This is great for us. We're weeding out the cheaters. We have absolutely nothing to worry about. The world is ours."
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing a diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won the Paris-Nice race in 2005.