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Mis-Communicator of the Week: The Tour de France

Fifty years ago today a great British sporting champion died on a baking hot, rocky, roadside high above the lavender fields of Provence. His death was filmed by the media. Simpson’s last words as he weaved to a standstill metres from where he eventually died were “put me back on my bike”. Images of spectators and medical staff who fought to save him were on the front pages of newspapers around the world the next day.

Tom Simpson was the Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish of his time. A world and British champion, BBC Sports Personality of the Year, a handsome family man who the sponsors loved. Simpson was a wholesome working class hero who died a sordid death due, in part, to his use of amphetamines which had been fuelling his bid for glory in the Tour de France.

The post mortem revealed a toxic cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol had combined with the searing heat on the slopes of Mont Ventoux to kill Simpson. More drugs were discovered in his hotel room and in his jersey pockets. All in all a pretty big hit to the reputation of the Tour de France.

1967 was said to be a wake-up call for the Tour and its relationship with doping. Roll forward 50 years and the world’s most popular sporting event is making great strides to leave the shadow of Lance Armstrong and his era of systemic doping behind. A wake-up call that the Tour and the sports governing body, the UCI, have finally acted upon.

So why the reticence to recognise Simpson’s death? Why is the Tour not climbing the “giant of Provence”, as Mont Ventoux is known, this year? Why is the Tour not marking his death in some way? Is the brutal truth not that he died racing at the Tour de France?

To recognise Simpson’s death would not be condoning doping. Done in the correct way it could be a great opportunity for the Tour to showcase its break with the past. It could also be a reminder to those racing today that the Tour remains vigilant for any who may seek to cheat their way to glory.

In the way it is possible (and recommended) to own negative language used against you, organisations should always seek to own the negative part of their story. By not doing so the Tour de France looks embarrassed or, perhaps, is simply not fully confident that the sport of cycling has learnt the lessons of Tom Simpson, Lance Armstrong and many, many others which is why it is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.

Mis-Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.

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