LONDON -- On the theory, perhaps, that a change of image requires a change of scenery, the Tour de France, the biggest race in a sport beset by one of the biggest ever sporting scandals, began this year nowhere near France.
Instead, it has churned for its first three days through the highways and byways of rural England where, the organizers hope, the memories of Lance Armstrong, the American rider who won the event seven years in a row but cheated to do so, have been almost forgotten. Armstrong's belated, forced admission that he'd used performance enhancing drugs, as did a lot of other riders, almost killed the sport's credibility.
Andrew Talansky is trying to get it back. The 25-year-old from Florida is the new, squeaky-clean, great American hope. He is sitting among the leaders after the race's opening weekend.
When asked about feeling an extra burden as an American rider in the Tour de France, Talansky replied, "No, it's not so much a burden as I would say it's a responsibility to provide something that the American public can believe in."
But in this grueling, 2,200-mile, three-week-long marathon, all of the racers are trying to prove something. The sport insists it has tightened up its drug testing and entered a new era.
The race has always been one of the toughest competitions in sport, and now it's even harder. The riders are up against each other, the distance and public skepticism.
"Yeah, you are going to have skepticism, but more and more my hope is that with the results that we are getting ... and we are doing it clean ... we are bringing fans back to the sport and that's our goal," said Talansky.
That goal that will be achieved when fans accept the results of the race, without waiting for results of the winner's blood tests.