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Can The Tour Be Won Without Drugs?


Time now for sports.


NEARY: Lance Armstrong says it's impossible to win the Tour de France without drugs and today marks the start of the 100th Tour de France race. A murder charge against former New England Patriots' tight end Aaron Hernandez has rattled football fans. But it's not all crime and punishment in sports. There's also the U.S. Women's Open in golf.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now. Hi, Tom.


NEARY: Well, I guess we have to start with Lance Armstrong and, again, he is saying there's no way anyone, himself included, could win the Tour de France without doping. Is that really true, do you think?

GOLDMAN: You know, he has said this before and after all the lies it's something we can actually believe from Lance Armstrong. Certainly seems true during his reign of the tour, 1999 to 2005. In those years, 37 different racers, including Armstrong, finished in top 10 spots in the tour, 28 of them either doped or were linked to doping in some manner.

Now, Armstrong got in trouble in this interview because his comments were interpreted as one could never win the Tour de France without drugs. He took to Twitter to clarify, where he said he was talking about his era. When asked about now, is it possible to win without doping, he Tweeted: I'm hopeful it's possible.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for doping-free cycling.

NEARY: Well, has anything at all changed in the culture of cycling since that era? Any reason to think that it's just less prevalent now?

GOLDMAN: Yes. It'll never be eradicated. The consensus is there's been improvement of the introduction in 2008 of the bio-password program. That's a highly respected anti-doping weapon. And again, you look at stats. Top 10 finishes in recent tours, in 2010, eight of the 10 were considered clean; seven of the top 10 in 2011. And last year, none of the top 10 tested positive or have admitted doping or been sanctioned during their careers.

The Armstrong comments have prompted calls again for a truth and reconciliation process in cycling where people could come forward with no fear of retribution, tell the whole truth, get it out, so the sport can move forward.

NEARY: Well, this is the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France. What about the timing of his comments now?

GOLDMAN: Timing's terrible. I mean, race organizers are trying to put a positive spin on this 100th tour and trying to promote a next generation of riders - clean riders, they say - guys like Chris Froome of Great Britain and perhaps America's next big thing, Tejay van Garderen. Many are angry, saying Armstrong is grandstanding from the sidelines and mucking things up with all this doping talk.

NEARY: And probably the biggest story, the sports story this week, in this country anyways, has been Aaron Hernandez, now former tight end for the New England Patriots. He's been charged with murder. There's been a lot of speculation about what happened. What is actually known about this?

GOLDMAN: Well, we know there's a funeral today for Odin Lloyd. He's the 27-year-old semi-pro football player who Hernandez allegedly shot to death. We know that a judge who denied Hernandez bail on Thursday acknowledged the case against him is circumstantial, yet, in the judge's words, very, very strong. We know two other men are in custody in relation to the case and we know Hernandez is being investigated in another crime, a double murder in Boston last summer.

NEARY: All right. Let's turn to a sport without any scandal. That's the U.S. Women's Open is happening. So, what should we be watching for there?

GOLDMAN: You should train your sights on 24-year-old Inbee Park. She's the female golfer of the moment. She leads the U.S. Open by two shots going into today's third round. She's won the first two women's majors of this season and if she wins this third one, that sets her up to become the first golfer, woman or man - yes, including Tiger Woods - to win four major professional titles in a calendar year.

And if she doesn't pull this off, chances are good someone else from Park's native South Korea will. You know, currently in the second place at the U.S. Open, I.K. Kim of South Korea. Here's a stat for you. Five different South Korean players have one six of the past eight major titles on the women's tour. Lynn, they are red hot right now.

NEARY: Well Tom, it is always good to talk with you.

GOLDMAN: Good to talk to you.

NEARY: NPR's sports correspondent, Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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