By Grant Chapman

The longer this particular edition of the Tour de France drags on, the more inclined I am to cut Lance Armstrong some slack.

Just a little, though.

Because if there's one sporting event where you absolutely should be doping, this is it.

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The graphic Instragram image of Pawel Poljanksi's burnt, swollen, vein-popping legs after completing yesterday's stage 16 should bring that home to even the most casual observer.

That same stage also spelt the end of our own great Kiwi hope, George Bennett, who had risen as high as ninth in general classification last week, but had slipped to 12th and was losing ground, when he finally climbed off his bike and said no more.

"I am empty," he said. There were still five stages to go.

Now, seven-time Tour winner Armstrong became the most reviled figure in modern sport, not just for being a drugs cheat, but mainly for the grand scale of his deception, including the bullying of team-mates to comply or keep his secret.

I don't have too much sympathy for the riders he supposedly cheated out of race victories, because many of them were cheating too, and those that weren't had made their choice and decided to be peleton riders.

Because if this year's Tour de France has shown us anything, it's that you need to be on something a bit stronger than your daily vitamins, if you want to be anything more than just a survivor.

Armstrong himself alluded to this, as he considered Bennett's withdrawal on his daily "Stages" podcast.

After sixteen stages I think my legs look little tired 😬 #tourdefrance

A post shared by Paweł Poljański (@p.poljanski) on


"This is not a human event, this is an inhumane event. What they put their bodies through is unlike anything the world of sports knows, so it's easy to get sick."

You can take that as an attempt at self-justification if you like, but if you've followed the race at all, you will realise it's true.

Four years ago, I cycled New Zealand's toughest one-day event, known as K2 - it's 200km (actually, slightly less) around the notoriously hilly Coromandel Penninsula. I had trained for a year and it took me eight hours.

The Tour de France is essentially riding K2 every day for three weeks, with some horrendous mountains added and a couple of rest days chucked in along the way.

At the end of my ride, I sat on the grass and watched my legs pulsing involuntarily from the effort. Poljanki's photo made me think about that.

Tour de France is simply carnage on wheels. Every day, there's a new challenge and the vast majority of the field are just hanging on for their lives.

Since day one, way back on July 2, the 196 starters - we've lost 27 along the way - have shown us a wide variety of ways to lose that battle.

Stage One: Former Tour of Spain winner Alejandro Valverde crashed in wet, slippery conditions during the opening time trial and withdrew with a fractured knee cap.

Stage Four: Former world champions Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan clashed in the sprint finish - Cavendish, who has won 30 individual stages of the Tour, crashed and withdrew with a fractured shoulder blade, while Sagan was disqualified for causing the accident.

Stage Nine: Probably the first really tough stage of the Tour destroyed the hopes of 12 riders, including Welshman Geraint Thomas, who had led through four stages and sat second, Australian favourite Ritchie Porte and French speedster Arnaud Demare. Thomas and Porte both crashed out, while Demare, who had won the stage four sprint, could not finish within the time limit. The next day, Olympic bronze medallist Rafa Majka also withdrew, after he was caught up in the Thomas crash.

Stage 11: Olympic silver medallist Jakob Fuglsang was in fifth place, when he crashed at a feed station, and broke his wrist and elbow. He tried to battle on the next day, but had to withdraw from his wounds.

Stage 16: Bennett had fallen ill a few days earlier and finally succumbed after the second rest day, when he fell behind the sprinters on the first climb. Former world champion Philippe Gilbert also pulled out with viral gastroenteritis.

Stage 17: Points leader Marcel Kittel, who had won five stages on this Tour, crashed in the peleton and pulled the plug soon after with a shoulder injury.

There is no question Tour de France is one of the world's premier sporting events. Every year, we are held spellbound by the French scenery, the courage of the riders and, in many cases, the spectacular nature of their demise.

These athletes do things that are unimaginable to most of us, so surely we can spare them the outrage when we discover they needed a little help to achieve them.