One remarkable five-minute stretch of Monday’s Stage 3 Tour telecast on Versus was a package on all the steps that the two U.S.-sponsored teams in the race–Garmin-Chipotle and Team Columbia–have taken to make sure their riders are clean of drugs. In fact, the piece was so fervently adulatory and uncritiical in its portrayal of the teams’ anti-doping methods, that re: Cycling wonders whether the teams are paying for the coverage they are getting. Beyond the heavily produced segment, featuriing Garmin-Chipotle chief Jonathan Vaughters in his high-fashion eyewear and retro turtleneck, Versus’s presentation of Stage 3 featured a live interview with Vaughters and taped interviews with Columbia’s Bob Stapleton, and at least two of the teams’ riders.
Maybe all of this is just pure editorial, reflecting the Versus decision to use the Tour’s doping problems as a launch pad for a marketing campaign that focuses on redeeming the professional cycling (on June 9, the Wall Street Journal quoted Gavin Harvey, the Versus CEO, as saying, “There is a shadow on [cycling]. It’s a sport that is battling for its soul, and what people respond to about cycling is the intensity of that battle.”)
However, the casual watcher of Versus’s first three days of coverage can’t help but wonder whether there’s a single European team that’s doing anything–prohibiting public crack smoking among riders, limiting illegal injections to half a dozen a day–to try to clean things up. If there is anyone trying to save the Tour but the ultraclean Yanks, they are not getting any air time on Versus.